The Mechanisms Of Defeat
Examples From World War 2
- Decisive action - the German Blitzkrieg attacks are World War 2's most obvious examples of decisive action, of rapidly defeating the enemy in a short period of highly concentrated maximum effort.
- Attrition - the strength and determination of the German and Japanese militaries, and the size of the territory they held, made the second part of World War 2 a long war of attrition. There was no way The Allies could defeat them in a single decisive campaign.
- Blockade - the submarine warfare and destruction of oil sources, as detailed above.
- Attacking weak points - Blitzkrieg tactic was to attack weak points and bypass strong points in order to keep momentum and inflict maximum damage in minimum time and losses.
- Attacking strong points - The Japanese objective in attacking Pearl Harbor was to start their series of conquests by first eliminating their strongest foe, the American Pacific fleet, that the only force capable of stopping them.
Also, when he felt that his combined anti-submarine forces were finally ready, Admiral Max Horton ordered to change tactic in the atlantic, and instead of making every effort to avoid German submarine Wolfpacks, he now made every effort to meet them, and sink them. The resulting losses of German submarines were such that their commander, Admiral Karl Doenitz, ordered all his submarines to return home until a new submarine tactic and measures will be developed. The U-boats were finally defeated.
- Detecting weak points by intelligence - one of the oldest of military arts. The example here is however most modern.
German night bombers which attacked England in 1940 were very dependent on top secret electronic navigation devices based on radio beams.
In one of the greatest known triumphs of scientific intelligence ever, R.V. Jones, the science officer of the Royal Air Force intelligence, was able to develop very thin clues into a precise analysis of the German system and a practical method to disrupt it without the German side noticing it for months. The German night bombers missed their targets, and Winston Churchill called Jones "The man who broke the beams".
Following a series of similar and even greater intelligence achievements, the commander of the British fighter command said that Jones was "Worth 12 Spitfire squadrons".
- Detecting strong points worthy of attack by intelligence - a well known example is the assassination of Japan's most capable military leader, Admiral Yamamoto, by American P-38 fighter planes, which was a major blow to the Japanese military. It was made possible only by decoding a Japanese message which revealed the time and place of his planned visit to a Japanese base. With that information it was possible to send the long-range P-38s to intercept him.
- Surprise attack - Despite early indications and warnings, the German Blitzkrieg attack of Russia in June 22, 1941 was such a powerful shocking surprise that the Germans crushed the huge Russian military all the way to Moscow before the severe Russian winter and massive fresh reinforcements could stop them. The allied attack in Normandy at D-Day was also a huge surprise, despite a few hints, thanks to a major campaign of secrecy and deception.
- Surprise in defense - when the German tanks attacked the Russians in Kursk in July 1943, they had no idea that the Russians, who expected the attack, prepared for it by building many successive and dense lines of anti-tank defenses there. The German forces which attacked the Russian lines were decimated by those unexpected massive defenses and suffered very heavy losses.
- Deception in attack - the greatest deception in military history, both in effort and in the scale of its results, was the massive allied deception effort about the time and place of the invasion of France.
The deception was so successful that even AFTER the invasion began the Germans believed its just a diversion and kept their main forces elsewhere, still expecting the main invasion. When they realized they were wrong it was much too late.
- Deception in defense - a clever British deception mislead the German intelligence about the results of their targeting of V-1 and V-2 missile attacks. The British intelligence used captured German agents to transmit to Germany lists of the correct locations where the German missiles fell, but with mixed dates.
The unsuspecing Germans compared those lists to their own log of missile attacks targeting data, and used the differences between the lists for aiming corrections.
The cleverly misleading information made them increase their aiming error instead of reducing it, which saved so many British lives. This deception was also one of the great ideas of R.V. Jones.
Camouflage and decoys are also well known examples of deception in defense.
- The importance of secrecy - is demonstrated in every step of every war. A good example is project Ultra, which was designed to use the information obtained by code breaking the German Enigma messages without letting the recipients of the information reveal the source of that information. It was obvious to the staff of project Ultra that if the Germans will realize that the Enigma was cracked by The Allies, that would be the end of that intelligence gold mine.
- Defeat by destruction - there are numerous examples. The sinking of the Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway, by US Navy dive bombers, terminated the Japanese domination in the Pacific. For Japan it was the major blow from which it never recovered, the beginning of the end.
- Defeat by shock - Before the D-Day invasion of France, allied air and sabotage activity against German units, installations, roads, and lines of communications in France was so devastating that it severely damaged all aspects of the German ability to counter the invasion. German units were largely isolated an stuck in their positions, capable only of static resistance, and much weaker than they were originally.
- Defeat by neutralization - when a static defense line of fortifications is being bypassed by the enemy, it is neutralized. Its purpose of existence is to stop the enemy, and if it can't achieve that it's useless. A good example is the French Maginot Line which took years and huge sums of money to build. It was the most advanced line of defense, but when the German tanks bypassed it across its left edge and penetrated deep into France in mid 1940, it became totally useless.
- Defeat by geographical disintegration - when the supply lines of a large military force are cut by the enemy, its daily consumption of food, fuel, ammunition, etc, is such that its ability to fight sharply decreases. The Germans, with their Blitzkrieg tactic, were able to destroy several large Russian forces this way. When the Russians started their large counter attack around Stalingrad in November 1942, they were able to let the Germans taste that too, when a huge German force was encircled, starved, decimated, and eventually forced to surrender.
- Defeat by command and control disintegration - in mid 1943, the British bomber command began to disperse chaff, clouds of small thin stripes of metal, as a method of electronic warfare against the German radars which guided German night fighters. It was a complete success. German ground controllers were confused about the location of the British bombers. They were even misled about the location of their own night fighters. The German defense system was not damaged at all, but it was denied the ability of coordinated action. British bombers loss rate immediately dropped to half or third of the previous rate.
- Defeat by loss of key unit - the best example of course is of killing or assassinating commanders. Another good example, again, is the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carriers in the battle of Midway, together with their aircraft and with them most of Japan's highly trained and experienced naval aviators. The rest of Japan's powerful Navy, with all its battleships and submarines, was unharmed. But the loss of its key unit, the aircraft carriers and their air units, was a terrible blow from which it never recovered.
- Defeat by loss of key position - the importance of the higher ground. When Crete was invaded by German paratroopers in May 1941, the German paratroopers suffered very heavy losses. The invasion could have failed unless the Germans noticed that some hills near the Canea airport are poorly defended. They stormed and took the hills. Controlling this modest higher ground was enough to enable risky but successful landings of German reinforcements in the airport, which slowly let them stabilize their position, bring in more reinforcements, and eventually conquer Crete.
- Defeat by loss of key road - The surprising capture of the Remagen Bridge over the Rhein river gave the advancing American forces an easy crossing point into Germany. The only reason for this success (the bridge was full of explosives ready to detonate, and constantly manned by a German unit) was Adolf Hitler's warning that "Anyone who will explode the bridge too early will be executed". The result was that the German unit hesitated to blow the bridge until it was too late..
- Defeat by loss of other key element - It is well known that their lack of readiness for the severe conditions of the Russian winter, despite all the years they had to get prepared for it, was a major factor in the German defeat in the battle for Moscow, and in the winter battles that followed. When the winter came the German military lost most of its fighting ability, and that's exactly when it was attacked by fully winter-capable fresh Russian units.
- Bypassing the enemy force - Many Japanese army units, fully willing to fight to the last man to stop the American advance in the Pacific, were surprised and confused as they realized that the Americans are not going to waste time and blood in fighting them. They were simply bypassed, left alone in the ocean or in South East Asia until the end of the war, because they were not on American's route to Japan.
- Preemptive action by preemptive strike - Hitler suspected that Norway, an important provider of war materials to Germany, was about to be occupied by Great Britain in order to deny those materials from him. In response he quickly sent his combined air, naval, and army forces to storm key Norwegian harbors with a total surprise. The British THEN sent forces to Norway to try to counter the German invasion, but they failed, and Norway remained under German occupation until the end of the war.
- Preemptive action by preventive strike - preventive strike and preemptive strike are very similar terms. The reason I call the German attack on Norway a preemptive strike, is that it did not prevent the British attack on Norway (actually it caused it). But it did preempt it. Hitler struck first and got Norway.
- Preemptive action by defensive measures - the "Scorched earth" tactic of the Russians as they retreated from the Germans, denied the Germans very needed resources (food,fuel,shelter,winter wear) which forced them to bring everything they needed all the (very long) way from Germany. A particular example is the occupation of the Russian oil well centers in the Caucasus.
The Germans fought a long way to get there, in order to ease their constant shortage of fuel, but when they finally occupied this oil rich region, they found out that the Russians systematically sabotaged each and every installation, making oil production impossible.
A team of 50 oil experts which was brought there to study the possibility of restoring production was attacked and eliminated one night by Russian partisans.
The entire German effort to take the Caucasus region in southern Russia for its many rich oil wells was eventually a huge waste of German manpower and equipment.
- Functional bypass - The initial successes of The Allies in using RADAR to capture German submarines as they surfaced at nights to use their diesel engines to recharge their batteries, were eliminated when the Germans invented the snorkel device which allowed their submarines to run the diesels while remaining submerged.
The use of new radars then gave The Allies the upper hand again as the new radars were able to detect the tiny RADAR reflection from the snorkel and again detect those submarines and sink them, eliminating the advantage of using the snorkel.
The Germans then installed RADAR detectors in their submarines, which gave their submarine captains an early warning of the presence of RADAR-equipped aircraft, giving them enough time to dive before being detected, making the use of RADAR much less effective.
The Allies then installed new radars with higher frequencies that the German RADAR detectors could not detect. This denied the German captains of the essential early warning, and submarines were again sunk.
- Bypass by deception - the well known trick of making the enemy look "there" while you move "here". The greatest example is again the invasion of Normandy. An unprecedented coordinated effort of deception convinced the Germans that the invasion will be in Calais, while it was in fact in Normandy.
- Defeat by loss of interest due to psychological warfare - the dispersion of leaflets and the use of loudspeakers and radio broadcasts to directly address enemy soldiers and citizens and convince some of them that continued suffering and the risk of losing their lives for their leaders' goals is not worth it, is a very common method of psychological warfare which was practiced by both sides in World War 2 and is still being used today.
- Defeat by loss of interest due to intolerable high cost - In August 1945 most Japanese people were still willing to continue to sacrifice countless lives to defend Japan from an American invasion.
The American use of the atomic bombs which instantly destroyed the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was however so horrible in its lethality that Emperor Hirohito, who knew that Japan was losing the war anyway, realized that continued fighting became equivalent to a futile mass suicide of the Japanese people, and ended the war.
- Defeat by loss of interest due to offering a tempting alternative - Sweden and Switzerland, both neutral countries, were at great risk of being invaded and occupied by Hitler's forces, like Norway was.
Both of them had strong defensive military forces, but these were not able to stop a German invasion, only to make the German military pay a high price in blood for it.
To further deter Hitler from invading them, each of those neutral countries offered Hitler important economical and diplomatic benefits for respecting their neutrality and leaving them in peace. Hitler preferred the benefits instead of a costly occupation and kept good relations with those two countries until the end of the war.
- Defeat by loss of faith due to psychological warfare - this version of psychological warfare is used mainly against an enemy force in disadvantage, of when it's close to defeat anyway, because then it's easier to convince the enemy soldiers that not only it's not worth dying for their country, but also that it's going to be in vain because of they are losing the battle or the war anyway.
This form of psychological warfare obviously has less effect on the outcome of the war, but it's also more effective. Its purpose is to save lives by preventing unnecessary fighting.
- Defeat by loss of faith due to previous defeat - On December 10, 1941, the brand new British battleship HMS Prince Of Wales, which sailed from Singapore, and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, were sunk by Japanese bombers. The ease of destroying the mighty ships was the last devastating blow in a series of blows to the morale of British defenders in Singapore. The Japanese tremendous successes in Pearl Harbor and all over South East Asia seemed almost unnatural. Several weeks later, when Singapore itself was attacked, and when the attack came from an unexpected direction, the eroded morale of the British defenders greatly helped the Japanese commander. Singapore surrendered.
- Defeat by loss of faith due to major previous failure - when time after time your strongest weapon does not damage the enemy, doesn't even seem to bother it, and this enemy continues to effectively fight you with its lethal weapons, it must be a very bad experience that in addition to destroying your faith in your weapons, is likely to also erode your faith in the fighting in general. This experience was shared by those who first encountered the heavily armored German Tiger tank, as well as by American submariners who were equipped with faulty torpedoes in the beginning of the war in the Pacific.
Back to part 1 of The mechanisms of defeat
World War 2 Bombers
Fallschirmjager, the German paratroopers
The Battle of Kursk
World War 2 RADAR
The Battle of Stalingrad
World War 2 submarines
When did Hitler lose the war ?
Russia in World War 2
The Battle of Britain
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