* war and social upheaval: World War II -- logistics and transport








World War II: Logistics and Transport

German rail lines
Figure 1.--Here German troops are moving for the front, probably pssing through Poland in 1942. They are throwing candy to the children. The Germans were highly dependent on rail lines, especially in the East. There not only were the roads primitive or non-existent, but the Whermacht was desperately sgort of trucks to move supplies. Hitler began the War with arelatively small motor vehicle industrty. Grmans made high quality motor vehicles, but produced only a small fractio of the cars and trucks built in America. Thus German factories could not provide the number of trucks needed in the East.

Logistics commonly does not make headlines are attract detailed attention among militarian historians. It does, however, commonly determine the outcome of battles and wars. This may not be the case when one side has a clear predominance of power or far surperior tactics and/or equioment. This is why the Germans and Japanse did so well in the opening phase of World War II. Logistical indequacies doomed their war efforts to failure when they failed to quickly defeat their major opponents. In the end it would be the logistical strength of America and France that would gradully shit the ballance of power. America not only had the resources and logistical capability to supply its own forces, but its Allies as well. The Soviets managed to stop the Germans before receiving meaninful logostical support. It was Lend Lease supplies, especilly trucks, that helped transform the Red Army into a modern, highly mobile force. Since the dawn of civilzation, logistics and transport have played key roes in warfare. Perhaps the first major battle in which logistics is known to have played a major role was Kadesh (13th century BC). Novel logistical practices were used to fight a battle far from home bases. Logistics was often the key factor in battlefield success, but is often neglected in military history. And logitians do not get the same acolades as brilliant battlefield commanders. As new military forces came into bing, logitical trains had to be developed to accomodate. The horse, chariot, and iron weapons all required major revisions in logistical systems. For centuries the donkey, mule, and ox cart were the primary logistical elements. As empire grew in size, ships began to be vital. Here the first major ship born logistical systems were introduced by the Persians and Greeks (5th century BC). From ancient times to modern times there were few important innovations in land logistics. Sea logistics changed with the perfection of the sail (15th century). It was not until the 19th century that major changed in logigistical system began. The most important was the steam engine with led to the railroad and stea,p-poweed ships. The railroad became a major factor in modern wars, in part because roadsystems were still primitive even in indusrial countries. The next major innovation was the internal combustion engine which made modern mechanized war possible. The railroad and the internal combustion engine first came together in World War II. As did modern shipping. The British began the War with the only fully mechanized army, but without the effective Blitzkrieg tactical doctrine developed by the Germans. The Germans had a notoriously poor logistical system. It did not make a great differemce ion the short, realtively small battlefields of the West, it did, however, in the East. The Germans were dependent on the railroads. The Soviets had a different gage, in part as adefensive measure. The Red Army was also not fully mechanized and after Stalingrad it would have taken years to drive west had the oviets not obtained large numbers of trucks through Lend Lease, especially the standard duce-and-a-half. The Allied air campaign severely damaged the French rail lines before the Normany D-Day landings and the Germans destroyed much of whar was left as they retreated. Thus the Americans organized the Red Ball Express to keep forward American units supplied as they drove toward the borders of the Reich. Seabord logisics were important for Britain, America, and Japan. The British and Americans mastered the logistical issues, in part through the Liberty Ship. The Japanese did not. The American submarine campign virtully destroyed inadequare maru fleet with which the Japanese began the War. By the end of the War Japanese factories were without raw materials, the popultion hungry, and garisons throughout the Pacific starving.

Logistics in World War II

Logistics commonly does not make headlines are attract detailed attention among militarian historians. It does, however, commonly determine the outcome of battles and wars. This may not be the case when one side has a clear predominance of power or far surperior tactics and/or equioment. This is why the Germans and Japanse did so well in the opening phase of World War II. Logistical indaquacies doomed the German war efforts to failure when they failed to quickly defeat their major opponents. In particular, logistics would be a key part of the Whermacht's failure on the Eastern Front. nd in the end it would be the logistical strength of America and France that would gradaully shift the ballance of power. America not only had the resources and logistical capability to supply its own forces, but its Allies as well. The Soviets managed to stop the Germans before receiving meaninful logostical support. It was Lend Lease supplies, especilly trucks, that helped transform the Red Army into a modern, highly mobile force.

Historical Background

Since the dawn of civilzation, logistics and transport have played key roles in warfare. Since time immemorial, logistics has been a factor in warfare. In fact many wars did not occur because of gthe distances between people. Once wars began between major civilizations, logistics became a major factor. Perhaps the first major battle in which logistics is known to have played a major role was Kadesh (13th century BC). Novel logistical practices were used to fight a battle far from home bases. Logistics was often the key factor in battlefield success, but is often neglected in military history. And logitians do not get the same acolades as brilliant battlefield commanders. As new military forces came into bing, logitical trains had to be developed to accomodate. The horse, chariot, and iron weapons all required major revisions in logistical systems. For centuries the donkey, mule, and ox cart were the primary logistical elements. As empire grew in size, ships began to be vital. Here the first major ship born logistical systems were introduced by the Persians and Greeks (5th century BC). From ancient times to modern times there were few important innovations in land logistics. Sea logistics changed with the perfection of the sail (15th century). It was not until the 19th century that major changed in logigistical system began. The most important was the steam engine with led to the railroad and stea,p-poweed ships. The railroad became a major factor in modern wars, in part because road systems were still primitive even in indusrial countries. The next major innovation was the internal combustion engine which made modern mechanized war possible. The railroad and the internal combustion engine first came together in World War II. As did modern shipping. The British began the War with the only fully mechanized army, but without the effective Blitzkrieg tactical doctrine developed by the Germans. World War II has been called a war of logistics because it was fought over a global battlefield and war material and raw material in large quantity had to be moved vast distances.

Country Trends

The countries which faced the biggest challenge were Japan and America and to a lesser extent Britain. For the Soviet and Germans the logistical system was dominated by the railrod. For the Americans and Japanese logistics primarily involved shipping. This meant shipping in the Pacific for the Japanese. For the Americans it meant a world-wide shipping challenge, but primrily the Pacific and North Atlantic. The British faced the same challenge, but as their war was primarily fought in Europe and the North Atlantic, it was not the same global challenge America faced. The Germans who launched the War failed the logistical challenge even though they had the easiest logistical challenge. They were located in the heart if Europe and fighting a continental war. The Germans had a notoriously poor logistical system. It did not make a great differemce ion the short, realtively small battlefields of the West, it did, however, in the East. The Germans were dependent on the railroads. The Soviets had a different rail gage, in part as a defensive measure. The Red Army was also not fully mechanized and after Stalingrad it would have taken years to drive west had the oviets not obtained large numbers of trucks through Lend Lease, especially the standard duce-and-a-half. The Allied air campaign severely damaged the French rail lines before the Normany D-Day landings and the Germans destroyed much of whar was left as they retreated. Thus the Americans organized the Red Ball Express to keep forward American units supplied as they drove toward the borders of the Reich. Seabord logisics were important for Britain, America, and Japan. The British and Americans mastered the logistical issues, in part through the Liberty Ship. The Japanese did not. The American submarine campign virtully destroyed inadequare maru fleet with which the Japanese began the War. By the end of the War Japanese factories were without raw materials, the popultion hungry, and garisons throughout the Pacific starving.

Transport Milleau

There are three major transport milleau: land (rail and road), sea, and air. Land transport means primarily rail and to a lesser extent road. Sea transport means primarily merchant sdhipping, although in Europe river barges was of some imporance. Air transport was a factor for the first time in history, but the actual quantities relatively small. The transport mix varied by country, campaign, and geogrphic area. It was America and Japan that had the largest challenges because so muvh of the War was foughtat such great distance from both countrie. It was America that successfully developed the greatest logistical system in human history to meet that challenge, mastrering all three transport sytems as well as helping its allies doing the same. Japan's failure to overcome the logistical challenge was an imprtant factor in the collapse of their war effort. One of the few advantages the Germans had was a highly efficent rail system anf interior lines that could rapidly deliver men and equipment to far flung battlefields. The two major failure of German arms came in the East and West where the Germans failed in delivering needed men and wquipment. This began in the East in thevfight for Moscow (November 1941). The Germans outran their supply lines. The same occurred at Stalingrad (November 1942). In the West, Allied air power cut the Atlantic Wall off from supplies and reinforcement (June 1944).

Land/Continental

There are three modes of land transport: rail, road, and riverine transport. (Riverine/canal barges can be considered land transport becuase they are continental in character. By far the most important of these three modes is rail. And here the Germans had a huge advatage as a result of interlines, closeness to the combat zones, and the effiences of the Reichbahn. America had a massive rail system which had a huge impact on the American war economy and production levels achieved, but this advanataged ended at the water's edge where men and material had to be shipped across oceans to far flung battlefields. The imoprtance of rail was amatter of simple physics. `Goods could be movered over rails more efficently over rails than roads because there was less friction on rails than roads, meaning less energy was required. Reverine and canal transport bwas also efficient, but were resticted to where tivers flowed. Canals extended this, but were very expensivr to build anf coulf moy nr built evrywher. Theybwere also slpw. This is why rail tansport replaced riverine/canal transportbso rapidly in the 19th century. While rail was the most efficient land transport, rails had a significant limitation. First, the raild did not extend everywhere. This was especially the case in the highly mobile World war II battlefields. Thus you needed to get men and material from railheads to the front. Second, unlike World War I, rails in World War II could be interdicted. In the East this meant partisan action. In the West it meant Allied air power. As a result, while rail transport was the most imprtant mode of transprt in the Euroean campaign, road transport meaning trucks played a key role in the War. American Lend lease trucks played a hugevrole in Soviet successes like Bagration. And with the dsestruction of the French rail system by Allied air power (1944), trucks okayed a critical role in the Western campaign after D-Day. nd here the American Arsenalmof of Democracy gave the Allies a huge advantage.

Sea

Shipping was a major aspect of the War. In no other War in history has the shipping challenge been so immense. The enormity of the challenge was part of the German strategic calculation. They didn't believe that it was a challenge even America's vaunted industrial genius could master, at least within a time frame that would prevent them from mastering Europe. For the Japanese, preoccupied with naval construction, they simply failed to calculate the shipping requirements for a Pacific war. The role of American industry, the Arsenal of Democracy, is commonly addressed in World War II histories. The War was, however, not fought in America. And all those tanks, trucks, artillery, machine guns, ammunition, electronic equipment, oil, food, and other supplies was of no use unless it could be delived to the front lines. And this primarily meant shipping--shipping on a vast scale. Merchant mariners from German occupied countries joined the British war effort, but the game changer was the Henry Kaiser and his war-winning Liberty Ships. The Germans assumed that the Americans needed 9 months to build a ship. That was how long they took to build a merchant ship and they considered themselves highly efficient. When reports surfaced of the Americans building merchant ships in 10 days, the incedulous Germans dismissed the reports as absurd propaganda. But they were all too true. Even before the Allies defeated Adm. Dönitz's U-boat wolf packs (July 1943), the United States was building merchant ships much faster than the Germans could sink them. And American shipyards also produced needed merchant shipping in large quantiyties for the Pacific. While the U-boats get a huge smount of attention by historians and Hollywood. It is the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Service that waged the only successful commerce campaign of the War--obliterating the Japanese Maru fleet. This cut the Home Islands off from their recently conquered Southern Resource Zone--the reason the Japanese went to war in the first place.

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Created: 6:52 PM 4/18/2011
Last updated: 9:28 AM 1/16/2020