Custom «World War I and World War II» Essay Paper Sample

World War I and World War II

Within the scope of this research, we will elaborate on the causes, effects and types of warfare with regards to World War I and World War II. The 1914-1918 War, the Great War, or the First World War as it was variously known, was in its day the greatest cataclysm Europe had known. Some 61 million troops of 16 nations were directly involved and suffered 7.8 million killed outright or died of wounds, 19.6 million wounded, treated and survived, and 7 million missing or prisoners of war. (Verhey 60) On any day in the war there were one million horses in service, whose feeding, care, and burial were a constant problem. Yet as the war expanded, so did the numbers of railway trains and motor vehicles.

Such was the slaughter that on the Western Front the total of battle casualties actually exceeded those from disease. In part this was due to the emergence of modern medicine from 1880, in part from the military's desperate need for men, and in part from the availability of vaccines to immunize soldiers, sailors, and airmen from tetanus, typhoid, and dysentery through the rigid use of sanitation. Yet typhus and cholera were rampant on the Eastern Front. Another major medical problem that also affected the availability of troops was the plethora of brothels, many especially run by the militaries themselves to control diseased prostitutes. (Bessel 44)

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World War I was an all-out war that mobilized not only the manpower at home, but also that abroad. The French brought their colonial troops from North Africa to the Western Front, and the British tried an Indian Army Corps briefly in the first year of the war on the Western Front, but much more successfully in Mesopotamia and the Near East, as it was then commonly called. (Schroder 60) The Russians and Austro-Hungarians conscripted and deployed their minorities, and the British even imported Chinese labor on a contract basis. More than this, the struggle saw most countries mobilizing their women as well.

In fact, the management of what become known as the planned economy required that not all skilled men be enlisted, but that many of them be “badged” as being vital to the war economy and thus were not to be pressed to volunteer or to be drafted. But before most countries realized this, they had already lost many of these important workers to the services and a good many already to death before they could be recovered and others stopped from going. Labor had to be directed in the national interest. And women came quickly to be seen by the war managers as vital to the national effort. This posed three problems: women were different from men physically and emotionally and they had different responsibilities at home; for these new laborers to be employed effectively, complex jobs had to be broken down so that any unskilled worker could quickly learn how to do a simple part of them. (Verhey 82) And unionized workers had to be persuaded that the national interest or patriotism demanded that the workforce be diluted in this manner. The result was that by the end of the war in Britain, the aircraft industry—a new and unprecedented enterprise—was more than half female.

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The very life-or-death nature of the 1914-1918 War was such that increasingly the government intervened in everyday life with everything from rationing of food, clothing, shoes, and the like both to conserve shipping space and foreign currency on the one hand and to compel people to eat and live more frugally on the other. Much of this apparatus, which had not generally been seen since medieval famine times, became the model for the Second World War, 1939-1945. (Verhey 94) Of especial concern was the physical state of the male side of the nation as revealed in military physical examinations. It was so poor in Britain that it led to the creation in 1918 of the Ministry of Health and in 1930 to that of the Royal Army Dental Corps, which also came to serve the Royal Air Force. (Verhey 95) On the other hand, the military did well in tropical campaigns for they had become from the 1880s one of the world's leaders in tropical medicine. Yet it must be remembered that there were many diseases and health and sanitation problems for which no one then had the solution.

Modern high velocity weapons, when used in conjunction with the mud, earth, and dust of shell-torn battlefields, gave nasty wounds. Too often the filthy material with which the soldier's clothes were covered was punched into the wounds and caused them to fester within 24 hours. (Schroder 89) It was to deal with the imperatives of medical aid that everything from litters and stretcher bearers to field hospitals and surgery were radically reorganized, for the sooner men were got off the battlefield, into surgery, and on to convalescence, the sooner they would be available again to the army. To take care of those who would never again become fit, other forms of social aid were gradually established, but the numbers were overwhelming, especially for those nations that collapsed or disintegrated at the end of the war, such as Austria-Hungary and Russia.

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The very evidence of casualties, the new conditions of trench warfare, forecast by the battles around Petersburg in 1865, Plevna in 1877-1878, in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and at the Chatalja Lines (1912-1913), and the development of shrapnel, plunging fire, and gas all called for new battlefield protection for the soldier, his NCOs, and his officers. (Verhey 121) Thus scientists and technologists were mobilized in most services. For head protection steel helmets appeared slowly in all armies, field dressings with morphine ampules were sewn into the front corners of uniform jackets, and gas masks were introduced.

Officers had to be taught to inspect for trench foot. Better offensive and defense weapons had to be developed, from hand grenades and trench mortars to sound-ranging equipment for counter-battery work for the artillery, not to mention tanks. At sea the competition between armor and shells continued, but the war on, under, and above the seas intensified the need for all sorts of new scientific-technological material. There was much concern with the volatility of naval gunnery supplies and magazines, with getting the maximum power out of the engines and improving fuel consumption, with signaling, and with the interception and decoding of enemy messages and the location of his ships. (Bessel 81)

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The development of undersea boats, another continuation of nineteenth-century evolutions that was accelerated by the war, led to concern to protect capital ships from torpedoes and mines, to an understanding of the forces of underwater explosions, and to greater attempts to deal with their causes. Thus one line of development was the blister to replace nets hung overside to take the force of underwater explosions; another was the development of the paravane to sweep mines aside, cut their cables, and enable them to be destroyed by rifle fire.

A whole new field was the development of the submarine and the U-boat and counter-measures against them. (Verhey 136) The submarine especially involved the understanding and development of electrical propulsion and the means to recharge the batteries. This in its turn led to a search for the means of making faster submarines that could keep up with the surface fleet until contact with the enemy was made, at which point they would submerge in ambush hoping that the opponent could be lured back over their trap. On the one beam this led to the development of steam-powered submersibles and on the other to very big gun ones. Not untypically of many wartime developments, these new vessels combined past science and technology in new combinations to try to create a winning weapon.

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And if that were true below the surface, so also it was above it, with the use of Zeppelins for long-range reconnaissance with their ability to hover for hours and of long-range flying boats both to provide intelligence and to counter Zeppelins. (Bessel 125) The recognition of the scouting potential of the air arm saw the development of both small airships for that purpose and for anti-submarine patrol, and also of fighting airplanes. By the end of the war, the British Grand Fleet did not sortie without an aircraft carrier or two and some 150 aircraft launchable from carriers, cruisers, and towed barges. (Verhey 138)

To make all weapons effective, scientists spent time and money on explosives, propellants, fuses, and sighting devices, and gases, which meant physics, chemistry, and metallurgy. The war at sea and in the air was tied directly to the battlefield in that both were much involved with the acquisition and allocation of natural, transportation, and industrial resources. Welsh coal went to France, American steel to England, Indian jute and North American wheat to the Allies. (Craig 340) The Central Powers were similarly engaged in various exchanges of vital materials. And the classic case of interdependence and grand strategy was, of course, the attempt to break through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to open a route to Russia so that her manpower could be armed and used effectively in the Allied cause and her timber in France and Britain.

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The world stumbled into the First World War because the political and military leaders did not understand the economic, social, and ideological dynamics of the movements they thought they were directing. (Verhey 142) And after the war started, they still had confused concepts of what they were fighting for and what the end result was to be. In other words, neither before the war nor during it did the leaders have a sensible idea of what it would take to accomplish their ill-defined goals. The secondary literature and the primary records now available make this clear.

The Second World War was a war of ambitions and denials. The ambitions belonged to Germany, Japan and Italy. All three nations were determined to expand their national frontiers at the expense of neighboring states. Hitler and Germany wished to dominate central Europe and to reduce Poland and the USSR to the status of vassal states. Hirohito and Japan sought dominion over China and South East Asia. Mussolini and Italy coveted the Balkans and the Mediterranean region in a planned revival of the glories of ancient Rome. (Chiukov 44)

At first the League of Nations, primarily represented by Britain and France, attempted to moderate and to appease the different national ambitions. However, as the demands for expansion escalated appeasement was gradually replaced by denial. The result was a series of wars as Japan, Italy and Germany resorted to military force to secure their national ambitions. Japan was the first nation to move beyond diplomacy to war with the annexation of Manchuria in September 1931, followed by the invasion of China in July 1937. (Chiukov 50) Italy also defied world opinion with the invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935. Both wars were major acts of aggression, but they remained isolated regional conflicts. However, the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 triggered a chain of actions and alliances that ultimately engulfed six of the world's seven continents in war. In particular, in October 1940 Germany, Japan and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact and united as the 'Axis' powers with the shared ambition of a new world order. The result was global warfare.

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The Second World War began at 4.45 a.m. on 1 September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. Franz Honiok was the first recorded victim of the war. Honiok was a Polish prisoner who was murdered by the SS and dumped at the scene of a fake Polish attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz on the Polish border. (Liddell 66) Several other border incidents were also staged by the SS, and a further twelve Polish prisoners, all unidentified, were murdered to create the pretext for invasion.

The Second World War finally ended at 11 p.m. on 14 September 1945 with the surrender of Japan. Italy had capitulated in 1943 and Germany was fought to a standstill in the ruins of Berlin in April 1945. (Liddell 70) The war cost the lives of approximately 55 million people, and many died in the most horrific of circumstances. (Liddell 71) It is impossible to name the last victim of the war because long after the war had ended many exprisoners and Holocaust survivors died from malnutrition and the injuries sustained during captivity. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki the radiation dose absorbed by the population from the detonation of two atomic bombs in August 1945 also continued to claim lives for decades after the end of the war. (Liddell 71)

There was not one war but a series of very different, overlapping wars fought in the Atlantic, the deserts of North Africa, the mountains of Scandinavia, the ice and snow of the Eastern Front, the jungles of the Far East, the islands of the Pacific, and the beaches, hedgerows and cities of western Europe. The expansion of the war was not only conventional but racial. In 1941 the Nazi war against the Jews of occupied Europe escalated into the Final Solution. The immediate opposition to the Axis expansion was from the resistance movements of the occupied territories and the intelligence services, and in particular the 'code-breakers'. (Morison 92) Both groups made a significant contribution to the diversion of Axis military resources and the identification of enemy intentions to the benefit of the Allied cause throughout the war.

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The failure of Hitler's Ardennes offensive (January 1945) to stem the Allied advance into Germany made the war in Italy inconsequential and significantly reduced the morale of the Wehrmacht in Italy. Their mission of guarding southern Germany was meaningless when little stood between the Allies and Berlin. The defeatist mood was deepened when Hitler rejected the advice of Kesselring and General Vietinghoff for a strategic withdrawal to the Alps. A hotel at Zurs had been requisitioned to serve as Mussolini's headquarters, with a last stand planned for Valtelline on the Swiss border. However, Hitler insisted upon no withdrawals from the Gothic front and for all troops to fight to the death. (Morison 114)

During February 1945, General Karl Wolff, the commander of all SS forces in Italy and Himmler's adjutant, opened secret surrender negotiations with the Allies. It would appear that Wolff was not acting independently but with Himmler's full knowledge and approval. There is also some evidence that Hitler was aware of the contacts and was willing to explore a deal in the west. Mussolini also signalled his readiness for a peace settlement. Contacts were established via the office of Cardinal Idelfonso Schuster, the archbishop of Milan, and Wolff was also placed into contact with Allen Dulles, head of the US Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland. (Liddell 90)











At 3 a.m. on 16 April, the final Soviet advance on Berlin commenced when Zhukov ordered the Soviet artillery to open fire, but in an unexpected reversal Heinrici successfully disrupted and temporarily broke the Soviet advance. (Morison 120) Heinrici had established a strong defensive line along the horseshoe-shaped ridge of the Seelow Heights and carefully ranged his limited artillery on the Soviet crossing and line of advance. Zhukov was forced to commit his main reserves to overcome the unexpected resistance, whereas in the south Koniev's simultaneous advance had proceeded in a textbook manner and entered the outer suburbs of Berlin. On 19 April, in a forest clearing near Dusseldorf, Field Marshal Model, who had once enjoyed a reputation as 'Hitler's fireman' because of his reputation for being able to turn around impossible military situations, shot himself. (Chiukov 89)

By 20 April, the day of Hitler's 56th birthday, the forces commanded by Zhukov and Koniev had wrapped around Berlin from the east and south respectively and were probing the outer defensive lines. Within the Zitadelle, a line of Hitler Youth were assembled amid the rubble of the Chancellery gardens to greet Hitler and to receive decorations for personal bravery. It was Hitler's last trip above ground and his last public appearance. (Liddell 99) He shuffled along the line and awarded Iron Crosses to the young boys.

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After a briefing that indicated that Berlin would soon be entirely encircled, all present beseeched Hitler to abandon Berlin and to make a last stand in the Bavarian Alps; he refused. Five days earlier Eva Braun had joined Hitler in the bunker and her arrival confirmed to all that he had no intention of leaving. Outside, at approximately 2 p.m., the first Soviet artillery shells fired by troops of the 79th Rifle Corps fell in the city center and killed many Berliners who were standing in queues to receive the extra food rations that had been released in honor of Hitler's birthday. (Liddell 106) The bombardment galvanized Hitler into action and, invigorated by cocaine drops supplied by Dr Morell, he pored over the situation maps. His eyes fixed on a marker for SS General Steiner on the northern flank of the Soviet advance and he ordered Steiner to launch a counter-attack to cutoff the Soviet spearhead threatening Berlin.

Steiner had few troops to command, but Hitler overrode his attempted protests and ordered all available reserves to be placed at Steiner's command and for him to break the Soviet advance immediately. The newly designated 'Army Group Steiner' existed only on paper, but Hitler declared: “the Russians are about to suffer the bloodiest defeat of their history at the gates of Berlin”. (Liddell 110) On 22 April Hitler's euphoria was punctured when he was informed during the last formal military briefing of the war that Steiner had insufficient forces to sustain an advance. The news was apparently too much for Hitler to bear, and those present reported that he turned “deathly pale and purple in the face, shaking in every limb. His voice cracked and he screamed about disloyalty, cowardice, treachery and insubordination.” (Chiukov 97)

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The celebration of VJ or Victory in Japan day on 15 August 1945 brought the Second World War to a formal close eighteen weeks after Hitler's suicide and the defeat of Nazi Germany. The third Axis power, Italy, had surrendered earlier in September 1943 and the new Italian government had not only placed Mussolini under arrest but elected to join the Alliance. (Liddell 116) Thus Italy ended the war as an Allied nation at war with Nazi Germany.

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