WWII, a war which changed the world

May 11, 2009

MOSCOW -- World War II was the bloodiest war in human history. It ended in Europe on May 9, 1945, and continued for another four months, until Japan’s surrender, although its outcome had already been predetermined. Participants in the war began to gradually sum up the results and consolidate its experience.

Every big war, especially a war with the participation of great powers on each side, changes military art. WWII was special in this respect. Changes in the armed forces’ structure, equipment and concepts of use were unprecedented in scale and importance. Even WWI with its massive use of combat aviation, submarines and tanks did not bring on such a transformation.
By the beginning of WWII, the armed forces of major powers had not changed much since WWI. Infantry with magazine rifles continued to be the backbone of the world’s armies; tanks still looked clumsy despite modernization; cavalry units existed in all armies, while the bulk of combat aviation was formed by plywood-cloth biplanes, albeit with improved specifications.
However, in the fall of 1939 there were prerequisites for a revolution in military art, which took place in the few subsequent years. Reliable mass-produced cars formed the foundation for mobile ground troops, which turned upside down all former ideas about operational art. By the late 1930s, technical progress enabled the leading powers to develop a new generation of tanks, which were capable of not only providing fire support for the mobile infantry, but also of breaking the defenses, and exploiting in-depth success instead of cavalry units. The war requirements quickly removed obsolete planes from the scene; improved specifications of aircraft turned the air force into an independent arm, capable of solving strategic tasks. The development of jet aircraft by the end of the war made this leap even bigger.
Radio equipment was not marking time, either. First, mass-produced reliable radio transmitters fundamentally changed command chain functioning by markedly increasing the information awareness of headquarters and the speed of their response. Combined with higher mobility of ground troops, these factors allowed them to translate into reality the concepts of in-depth operations.
Second, radio allowed headquarters to secure arms coordination on the battlefield. Third, by the beginning of WWII, the leading powers developed the first radars, which drastically changed the tactics and operational formations in all services, first and foremost in the air force and navy.
Radars and new combat aircraft undermined the dominance of big artillery warships, which seemed immutable for centuries and reached its peak with the appearance of dreadnoughts in the early 20th century. Aircraft carriers, which were considered to be auxiliary ships before WWII, ousted battleships from their superior position. They became fundamentally new strategic vehicles -floating bases for dozens of powerful aircraft capable of controlling hundreds of kilometers around them.
Submarine fleet, which had already gained respect as a serious force after WWI, also underwent a revolution. During 20 years between the two world wars, submarine specifications changed very little, but in subsequent five years they made a big leap. Before, they had been able to go underwater for a short period of time, but the development of the air force and surface ships compelled their designers to turn them into full-scale submarines capable of staying underwater for weeks. There was only one step from the submarines, which operated by the end of WWII, to nuclear-powered submarines, and this step was made before long.
Radio equipment soon turned into radio electronics, and led to the appearance of weapons that only existed in science fiction before. WWII gave birth to ballistic missiles (and test models of air defense and anti-tank missiles), guided torpedoes, adjusted air bombs, and pilotless vehicles, not only airborne but also ground-based, which were the prototypes of modern robots, and centralized air defense systems. Finally, WWII brought into being the first computers. They were developed for strictly military purposes - new armed forces and their maintenance required fast calculations.
Talking about technical advances of WWII, it is important to mention nuclear weapons, which have drastically changed humanity’s attitude to war and peace.
These serious technological changes were bound to affect tactical and operational art. It would be no exaggeration to say that practically all current military art is rooted in what was done in 1939-1945: action by combined units, close teamwork of different arms and services, task force operations, fleet-against-shore operations (which have become much more important than before), strategic bombardment, radio electronic warfare, mass-scale information-psychological warfare, to name but a few. War has become truly total in terms of information, psychology, and technology, and has radically changed the requirements to logistic potential and stability.
The revolution in military art has fundamentally changed the ratio between big and small countries in the world arena. Before, the difference in their armed forces was mostly quantitative. When it became qualitative, very few countries could afford to develop fully-fledged armed forces of the nuclear era. It is only natural that these countries form the big Nuclear Five, and the nucleus of the UN Security Council.
New operational concepts, backed by the nuclear bomb, strategic bombers, and missiles with an increasing range, have practically put an end to the notion of a “tensions build-up.” Transition from peace to war for major powers has become very thin. Even in peacetime they had to plan their infrastructure based on a possibility of an attack at any moment and to any depth.
WWII was preceded by many big and small local conflicts, which determined the configurations of blocs and alliances in its course. The exacerbation of these conflicts and their drawing closer to the borders of leading countries signified an early start of a big war.
After WWII, a victory or defeat in a big war became a life-and-death issue. A country defeated in a big war is bound to lose everything and cease to exist as an independent political entity for a long time or forever. Indicative in this respect is the example of Yugoslavia, which lost its own identity as a result of defeat. Under the circumstances, the continuous modernization of armed forces is becoming a priority for the preservation of a country, its freedom and independence. It is as important today as it was 64 years ago.
(Source: RIA Novosti