** war and social upheaval: World War II -- American military forces

World War II Military Forces: European Military Forces

Figure 1.--The Red Army would be Central military force of World War II. Never in the history of warfare has an army been so tested as the Red Army by the German Barbarossa offensive. The level prisoners was so huge that the Germans thought they had won the War. Here we see see Red army soldiers we think after the War. We are not sure just where. The Red Army destroyed the German Army, but also committed terrible atrocities. Unlike the Wehremacht, however, you do not see them murdering children

Most of the pwerful military forces at the time of World War II were European. There were three poweerful European armies at the onset of World War II: the Soviet Red Army was the largest and most heavily armed country in the world. Vast resources were poured into the Soviet military. As a result of Stalin's purges, the Red Army was demoralized and poorly led. The German Heer was the most professioinally led with a modern comat doctrine--Blizkrieg. Hitler seized power amd began a massive military buildup. The Germans did not create a highly mechanized army to match their battle doctrine. It proved highly effective in the narrow conines and excellent roads of Western Europe, but Hitler wanted the East for Lebensraum and conquering the Soviet Union witha an aremy largely on foot with horse-drawn carts proved a different matter. The Allies decided not to match the German build up and attempted appeasement. The French Army was large and well armed, but its commandrs were wedded to World War I concepts. The Soviet Union palyed a role in the destruction of the French Army, supplying the Germans with oil and other critical materials. As a result, the Red Army they would have to face the Germans virtually alone when Hitler invaded (June 1941). The Ostkrieg became the decisive campain of the War, althogh the imprtance of the War in the West is often not understood. The British Army was the only fully mechanized army, but very small. There were other large armies, but most were poorly armed. The Italian Army prived to combat ineffective. In the air, the Luftwaffe proved dominant, enablling to defeat the French air force, largely because of poor leadership. The British Royal Air Force thanks to the Channel and the Chain Home Network was able to withtand the Lufwaffe assault and Britain would be a an unsinkable aircraft carrier off Hitler's occupied Europe which with American assistance eventually reduced German cities to mounds of rubble. Hitler and his minions never understood the productive caability of the Arsenal of Democracy, especially the ability to build aicraft. The British Royal Navy was again able to blockade Geramny denying it important raw materials, especually oil. This was not initiually a problenm because of the NAZI-Soviet Alliance (1939-41). After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, it became a real problem for the Germans. The Royal Navy had not prepared for another U-Boat offensice which became a major threat to Britain. Fotunately the Royal Canadian Navy and eventially the U.S. Navy assisted in the Battle of the Atlantic--the longest campign of the War. The Royal Navy defeated the Italian Navy in a series of fierce Mediterranean battles. The Germans wanted to getbtheir bhabds on the French Navy, but French in the end scuttled their ships. The Royal Navy's carrier force were important in the European theater, but not up to the standards of the Americans and Japanese.


Germany invaded neutral Belgium launcjing World War I. The small Belgian Army played a major role in slowing down the Geramn drive toward Paris and along with the British Expeditiionary Force made the Miracle on the Marne possible. Belgium decidedd to trust its future to neutrality again as the Gerams launched World War II. As a result there was no coorination with the Allies (Britain and France). The German Wehrmacht was an only partially mechanized force, but important units were merchanized and unlike the World War I milirary not only on fooy as well as a powerful. King Leopold II surrendered to the Gerrams after only 2 weeks. The surrender very nearly was the final blow that doomed the Bef and French First Army attempting to evacuate at Dunkirk. Hitler allowed much of the Belgian Army in pOW camps to return to Belgium.during the occupation.


Britain enteres the War with the only fully mechanized army in existence, albeit smnall. The French were again expected to provide the bulk of the land force when Germany struck. The bulk of the Brtish Army was rushed to France as the Brtish Expditionary Force (BEF). They were deployed to the left of the French Army along the Belgian-French frontier. The French complained about this and complined that the British were not making an adequate contribution to the Allied war effort. While the British were fully mechanized, tey had not placed the same emphasize on tanks nor had worked out the close-air-support doctrine of what woud became known as Blitzkrieg. The result was military disaster. The BEF was almost lost at Dunkirk which would have left Britain virtually unble to continue the War. Te BEF manage to get bajkto Britain, but left ts arms in Belgium and France. It was left to the Royal Air Force (RAF) to prevent a German invasion which only suceeded by a narrow margin. Britain after delaying rearmament to match the Germans managed to produce only one modern fighter-- the Hawker Hurricane. The high performance fighter, the Spitfire, was just coming into production as the Germans struck in the West. Britain's advanced technological capabilities helped save the country. The Chain Home Net ws a key element in the RAF's victory over the Lufwaffe. With the outbreak of the War, the Royal Navy again moved to blockade Germany. Britain's traditional defense was the Royal Navy which since Trafalgur (1805) had been the world's dominant naval power. The Royal Navy could, however, not prevent a German invasion and as the war progressed and was barely able to keep the sea lanes open from the Uboat nenance. The Admiralty badly miscalculated the capabilities of Asdac in finding submerged U-boats. The Royal Navy required the assistance of the U.S. Navy and a new Canadian Navy virtually built from scratch. In the Pacific the Royal Navy was unable to deploy substantial forces and was totally outclassed by Japanese naval aviation. Ejected from the Continet, Churchill was determined to never repeat the catotrophic land casualties of World War I. Rather the RAF's Bomber Command would become the primary way of striking at Germany This only became possible with arrival of the Avro Lancaster (1942). The British also organized commando forces, now called special foces.


The French Army had been the mainstay of Allied forces on the Western Front untl nearly btken by the Germans at Verdun. The war virtunally destroyed an entire generation. To avoid this in a future war, the French based their military strategy on a static defense structured around a huge fortified position--the Maginot Line. France had a powerful, well equipped Army, Navy, and Air Force when the war broke out. A combination of incompetent military leadership and illconceived miitary doctrine along with the wide-spread pacifist/anti-War feeling led to military disaster and the fall of France (JUne 1940). The French Air Force played almost no role in the fghting because it was deployed too far from the front. As a result, the French Army which played such an important role in World war I, sent the remainder of the War in German internment camps. The powerful French Navy posed amortal danger to Britain. Chrchill moved to iinterthe Frebch shis or allow them to join Britain resulting n the Mers-al-Kavir tragedy (July 1940). The small Vichy Army resisted the British in several colonies. They fought a briet battle with the the Anglo-American Totch invasion (November 1942). The United States armed te Free French forces. After Nrmandy. DeGualle'sProvisional Government moved to reform a French Army which became the right flank of the Allied armies which invaded Germany.


The Army (Heer) or Wehremacht was Germany's dominant military force, as was the case throughtout German history. The Army high command made a pact with Adolf Hitler (1934). Hitler agreed to eliminate the SA as a threat to the Wehrmact and ordered the execultion of Roehm and other close associates. The Wehrmact swore a loyalty oath to Hitler--not to the German nation but to Hitler. In return for their loyalyty they were the beneficiaries of a huge rearmament ptogram in contravention of the Versailles Treaty. The Army had managed to evade many Versailles restrictions and when Hitler came to power the Versailles restrictions became moot and Germany began ro rearm. . The dimensions of the rearmament program far outweiged any level of armament needed for defense. It was patently clear to the Wehrmact general staff that Hitler meant to wage aggressive war. The Wehrmact developed the battle doctrine of Blitzkrieg which in essence is the basic concept of modern warfare. The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an airforce. Hiter ordered G�ring to formally establish the Luftwaffe (1935). In the years right before the War and the early phase of the War, the Luftwaffe played a major role. The new Luftwaffe was staffed by Wehrmacht officers and througout the War was primrily a ground support force. Hitler gave relatively little attention to the Navy and even less to the U-boat fleet. The NAZIs signed a treaty with Britain that removed many of the Versailles limitations (1935). with Britain thaIronically, it was the Navy after defeats in Russia and North Africa and in the skies over Europe that by early 1943 offered the NAZIs the last chance for victory.


The Italians had the three major military services. The largest was the Royal Army, the Regio Esercito (RE). Italy wa a heavily populated country and thus mustered a subtantial army. Mussolini bragged about 8 million bayonets. Fascism prided itself on military prowess. This was for the Fascists a key component of a nation state. And the Irlians Fascists had twice ax long as the NAZIs to build an army and embue it with a mattial spirit. And to accomplish this, the Fascists disbanned the Noy Scours and founded the Balilla, a youth group that was aimed at preoaring young people for military service at an early age. In this effort, the Fascists failed. Of all the principal combatant countries, the RE proved to be the least effective army. This in part reflects the inabikity of Italy with its small indidtrial base to equip its army with effective weaponry. An exceotion was the artillery. Perhaps even more important was the inabikity of the poliical and miklitary lkeadership to energize its conscripts, many if whom were uninterested in fighting a war. Also the officer class did not atke responsibily for seeing to the needs of the conscripts, but instead seem nore intent on insuring their own personal comforts. Thus despite Mussolini's bluster, Italy did not have a modern army capble of waging war against a modern European nation. The Regia Marina (Royal Navy--RM) on the other hand was a much more modern force. It hadfast vesseks with heavy guns. The RM also had weakenesses. Its cruisers were fast, but lightly armored. Alsi they lacked both radar and aircraft carriers. The Germans were developing radar, but apperently did not share their advances with the Italians. And the RM leadershio was largely untested. Some of the most impressive results wee achieved by incredibly brave sailors operating mini-submarines. The Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force--RAl) was a substantial force. Its aircraft were, however, not up to those deployed by other major combatant nations.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union had three combat branches, the Red Army, the Red Air Force, and the Red Navy. The NKVD secret police force also mobilized military history The Red Army was the dominant or senior service throuhout the War. It would carry the load of the savage fighting against the German Wehrmacht during World War II (June 1941-May 1945). It would be the most costly and decisive military campaign in history. But for nearly 2 years, the NAZI and Soviet firces were allies and got on amiably. In fact the Soviet Union supplied the Germans vast quantities of critical war material, without which the Wehrmacht's stunning Western camapaign (May-June 1940) would have been difficult. [Tooze] At the time that Hitler seized power (1933), only two countries had militaries with a modern battle dictrine what we now call combined arrms warfare or during World War II what was called Blitzkrieg. It was not only the German that develooed this innovative concept, the Soviets did as well. This was because they trained and cooperated with the Germans as part of the Rapallo Treaty (1922). It was all dome in sceret deep in thev Soviet Union. Such operations were banned in Germany as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The Germany were not even permitted to have tanks at the time. As a result it was not just the Germamns that had this advanced tactical capability. Stuningly, as Hitler began remilitaizing and wining adherents in the German military, Stalin launched a massive purge of the Soviet military. He has much of the professional core of Soviet military arrested. There were a few show trials including Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the Red Napoleon, on down. Special attention was given to arresting the Red Army commanders who had been involved in the Rapallo process with the Germans. These were the Soviet officers who like the Germans had mastered Blitzkieg. Not only were they arrested, but the whole concept promoted by Tukhachevsky fell into disrepute. Officers were terrified of any connection with Tukhachevsky, even his concepts. And when Hitler and Stalin launched World War II. it showed. First in Poland (September 1939) where the Poles offered little resistance and more notably in Finland (Novemnber 1939) where they Finns resisted fiercely. All of this was being closely observed in Berlin and would be a major factor in Hitler's decision to invade. The Red Army would have to relearn Blizkrieg after the Germans invaded (June 1941). It involoved a blood letting upprecedented in the history of warfare, but leran they did. One of the great myths of World War II was that Red Army was comprised of countless, faceless hordes, motivated only by NKVD rifles at their backs and winning only through sheer weight force of numbers. This was an idea prpetrated by German generals who published their memoirs after World War II. Many Western histories accept this view, and it is standard fare in Hollywood, notably in the 2001 film, Enemy at the Gates'. The story was also standard fare during the Cold War, when the intelligence community frequently overestimated the quantitative side of Soviet capabilities while belittling its quality. And it went largely unaswered because the Soviet cult if secrecy, closing their military archives to Western historians. Actually, for the critical first months of Barbarossa, it was the Germans and their allies who outnumbered the Red Army. There is another myth that also has great currency, ;argely because of the derterminatiin of lefyleaning authirs and media to demonize the Allies war effort. The Russians and many sympathetic Western authors calim that the Red Army virtyally won the War on their own. This simply is not true. It is true that the Red Army tore the heart out of the Ostheer. But not fully reconize is that while the Heer was primarily committed to the East, German war industry was primarily supporting the war in the West waged by the Luftwaffe and Kriegs Marine. The Ostheer went east mostly with horse-drawn carts. The Panzer divisiins were a small mpart of the Osheer. The Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine requited the output of German industry. This lack of indutrial support left the Osheer terribly exposed as the Red Army recovered from the blows delivered during Barbarossa.


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Created: 2:09 PM 10/30/2021
Last updated: 2:10 PM 10/30/2021