Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Discussions on High Command, strategy and the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) in general.
TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 03 Jul 2020 04:02

Our own world-famous scholar Der Alte Fritz [aka H.G.W. Davies] recently posted a review/critique of Phillips Payson O'Brien's How the War was Won on his personal blog: https://www.hgwdavie.com/blog/how-the-war-was-won

It's an excellent article/post making points that I've been frustrated at not seeing in academic/popular reviews of O'Brien's generally insightful, well-written, and well-researched book.

O'Brien argues that, for all major WW2 combatants except Russia, air and sea production dominated war production. From that fact, he argues that the air-sea war - and especially the West's contributions to it - were the real decisive factors in the war, not the Eastern Front.

As I've said elsewhere, one seemingly obvious blindspot of the book's focus on war production is that economies produce at least two things: goods and services. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=248298#p2260332 Fielding armies - moving immense manpower resources from goods production to military services provision - implies an immense opportunity cost in goods production. O'Brien's focus on the air/sea battle's primacy in military goods production completely ignores the land war's primacy in military services.

Davies is on to this point, creating an interesting table of financial vs. human life costs, using "value of life" economics:

Image



I want to amplify Davies point by looking at the effects of human capital distribution during the war, which complements the above graph of retrospective human capital "expenditure."

Just look at German manpower distribution in 1944. From DRZW vol.V, p.928:

Image

As of mid-'44, Germany had called up 10.7mil men to the Wehrmacht and was employing ~20.3mil men in the domestic economy.

Of the Wehrmacht's 10.7mil, ~90% were committed to land war (Heer, Waffen-SS, LW ground units, LW activity apportioned to ground support) or were dead/disabled/missing due to land war. So ~30% of Germany's male population was providing military services in the land war or had died/etc. doing so. [The DRZW table might understate Wehrmacht recruitment, as Germany had ~9.5mil soldiers in all branches in mid-44 and had already lost a few million].

Any familiarity with the fights between OKW/H and industry over soldiers vs. factory workers will tell you that returning those 30% of men to the factories would have massively increased German military production.

And it's not simply a matter of arithmetic proportion: The men serving in the Wehrmacht were younger, healthier, and often better-educated/skilled than those who stayed at home. In an industrial economy they were certain to have been more productive than extremely young, old, or infirm men. Despite the "Reserved occupation" label - always inefficient anyways - the Wehrmacht claimed a disproportionate share of Germany's technical and skilled human capital. See, e.g., DRZW vol.V "Distribution of Scarcity" p. 1114-1147.

If we suppose that the Wehrmacht devoted to land war 40% of Germany's productivity-adjusted male manpower in 1944, thereby removing it from war production, and add this factor to the land war's ~45% share of industrial production, then the economic resources of Germany were overwhelmingly concentrated on land warfare.



Applying this analysis to other countries likewise demonstrates the incompleteness of O'Brien's central thesis.

The Soviet Union had ~31mil non-agricultural workers in 1942, of whom 10.9mil were in the military. The Soviet Home Front 1941-45, Harrison, p.215. The SU had already lost ~5mil to the Germans on land so about 15mil of ~36mil non-agricultural workers were devoted to the land war military services under this accounting. As with Germany, soldiers were generally younger and healthier than those left in the factories so it was probably the case that half of Soviet (male and productivity-adjusted) manpower was providing military services to the land war in 1942. Certainly later in the war, as the tally of the land war's dead/disabled/missing increased, 50% would be an underestimate. As even O'Brien recognizes that Soviet goods production was majority land-focused, a good accounting of Soviet goods+services potential devoted to land war would certainly exceed 80%.

For the Western Allies and Japan my analysis amends O'Brien's picture significantly less, as these countries threw far less of their productive capacity into military services and, of these military services, a far greater proportion went to manning/maintaining/supplying ships and planes. Nonetheless, the land forces of the US and Britain always exceeded the other services in manpower allotment and consideration of their productive capacity for goods instead of military services (i.e. production opportunity cost of armies) would shift the balance land-ward from the low-20's percentages figured by O'Brien.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 03 Jul 2020 04:53

In addition to its descriptive claim regarding what WW2 economies focused on, How the War was Won contains a less-explicit but readily-inferred normative claim along the lines of "How to win a war."

Basically O'Brien's normative claim justifies the Allied (particularly American) decisions to focus on air/sea war and minimize the size of their armies. Regarding Admiral William Leahy, one of O'Brien's strategic "heroes", the author writes:
Leahy had no stomach for massive land battles, which, he believed, would inevitably lead to high and unnecessary casualties. Therefore, he saw no need for the United States to prioritize production for a large army. In his mind, mass armies belonged to the past, and America needed to win an air-sea war based on machinery over human sacrifice.
Second Most Powerful Man in the World p.203

O'Brien also describes Germany's U-boats as conducting its only "modern" campaign and recently called it Germany's only "efficient" campaign on the Podcast "We have ways of making you talk." https://play.acast.com/s/wehaveways/whe ... swon-part1

So it's pretty clear to me - and likely to anyone who's read his books - that O'Brien thinks the Allied strategy was the correct one.

As I've said elsewhere, I mostly disagree. If the strategic goal was to end the war quickly, the Wallies could have done so by fielding a larger army and putting it in France earlier. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=248298

I also believe that the Wallies would have had serious problems defeating Germany with their OTL air/sea focus if, as was generally expected, Germany had defeated the SU during 1942. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=247189

In a review of O'Brien's book, Mark Harrison opines that, "If the Soviet Union had lost the war on the Eastern front, the air-sea battle that
was fought in the Atlantic and Pacific would have become far more difficult." https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics ... rrison.pdf

Harrison is tacitly acknowledging my OP's analysis that defeat of Russia would have seen the reallocation of German resources from land warfare to air/sea warfare.

The Wallies almost certainly, IMO, would not have been able to defeat Germany through air/sea power alone, except perhaps via the A-bomb. But the A-bomb wasn't foreseen - at least not primarily relied upon - when the Anglo-American strategic focus on air/sea warfare was adopted early in the war, despite anticipated Soviet collapse.

On its own terms then, the OTL Wallied strategy would have been a failure. They may have recovered, raised an immense army to force their way to Berlin, and won the war anyway. Or the A-bomb might have saved us. But that doesn't mean we should seek to justify Wallied strategy in the way that O'Brien does. Victory does not vindicate Allied strategy: with their immense advantages many really bad strategies could have won the war once the SU survived the initial German onslaught.

Max Payload
Member
Posts: 520
Joined: 21 Jun 2008 14:37

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by Max Payload » 04 Jul 2020 11:57

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:53
In a review of O'Brien's book, Mark Harrison opines that, "If the Soviet Union had lost the war on the Eastern front, the air-sea battle that
was fought in the Atlantic and Pacific would have become far more difficult." https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics ... rrison.pdf
This seems to have been an ill considered opinion. It would have taken time for Germany to reprioritise its war effort. By the end of 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic had been largely won and U-Boat forays into the Atlantic had become little more than suicide missions. By then Allied aircraft production greatly exceeded Germany's capacity, and that capacity would have been diminished by the Allied bombing campaign.

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:53
Harrison is tacitly acknowledging my OP's analysis that defeat of Russia would have seen the reallocation of German resources from land warfare to air/sea warfare.

This is hardly contentious or insightful. Barbarossa was always supposed to have been a short operation, after which, if Britain did not then throw in the towel, it was Hitler's intention that Germany would engage in an air/sea technological war in the West to secure its final hegemony over Europe.

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:53
If the strategic goal was to end the war quickly, the Wallies could have done so by fielding a larger army and putting it in France earlier.
This argument seems to have been largely debunked by Sheldrake. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=248298

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:53
I also believe that the Wallies would have had serious problems defeating Germany with their OTL air/sea focus if, as was generally expected, Germany had defeated the SU during 1942. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=247189
This seems self-evident. With the Wehrmacht not having to face 450+ Soviet divisions in the East, an extra 50-100 German divisions would have been available for manning the Atlantic Wall (such as it was in 1943 and as it became in 1944) which would have made a significant difference to Allied planning expectations.

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:02
O'Brien argues that, for all major WW2 combatants except Russia, air and sea production dominated war production. From that fact, he argues that the air-sea war - and especially the West's contributions to it - were the real decisive factors in the war, not the Eastern Front.
If that is, indeed, O’Brien’s argument, then even without detailed analysis it is clearly a deeply flawed one. To suggest that Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk (and the subsequent summer/autumn offensives), Bagration, and the Soviet Vistula offensive of 1945 were somehow not decisive factors in the war would be absurd.
Each country fought the war it had to to survive and ultimately prevail. It had not been Germany’s intention after the fall of France to pump the majority of its military resources into the army. Britain was initially preoccupied with keeping its sea lanes open and preventing a German cross-Channel invasion, prioritising aircraft production and naval strength. Events in the Med, the Middle East and East Africa were relative side-shows. With the enemy literally at the gate more than a thousand miles from its nearest naval base, it is hardly surprising that the Soviets put relative few resources into its navy. IIRC in the early stage of the war US strategic planners assumed America would have to raise 200 divisions. In the event, with the Pacific war proving to be a predominantly air/sea conflict and the Red Army chewing up Axis divisions by the dozen, it ultimately raised less than 100. What was decisive in the war was the ability of the United Nations, taking all factors into account, to stretch Germany’s resources beyond breaking point.

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:02
O'Brien's focus on the air/sea battle's primacy in military goods production completely ignores the land war's primacy in military services.

Davies is on to this point, creating an interesting table of financial vs. human life costs, using "value of life" economics:
I am puzzled by Davies’ table. Is he actually assigning a dollar value to each individual human life?

I am equally puzzled by the bar chart. Surely all that it is showing is that as the war progressed the Wehrmacht sucked up a growing proportion of German manpower leaving Germany increasingly dependent on foreign forced/slave labour. None of that is disputed. What I would question is some of the detail in the chart. For example, what are the figures at the top? They seem to bear no relation to the sum of the individual bar chart components. Why is the 1943 reserved occupation band wider than for the preceding and subsequent years when the quoted figure is lower? How reliable is this chart when "Obvious mistakes of addition in the original are corrected here"?

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 04 Jul 2020 15:03

Max Payload wrote:Allied aircraft production greatly exceeded Germany's capacity, and that capacity would have been diminished by the Allied bombing campaign.
So the Allies win the air war by winning the air war.

Tom from Cornwall
Member
Posts: 2092
Joined: 01 May 2006 19:52
Location: UK

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 04 Jul 2020 17:29

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:02
Our own world-famous scholar Der Alte Fritz [aka H.G.W. Davies] recently posted a review/critique of Phillips Payson O'Brien's How the War was Won on his personal blog: https://www.hgwdavie.com/blog/how-the-war-was-won

It's an excellent article/post making points that I've been frustrated at not seeing in academic/popular reviews of O'Brien's generally insightful, well-written, and well-researched book.
TMP,

Thanks, interesting review.

Regards

Tom

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Jul 2020 06:22

Max Payload wrote:I am equally puzzled by the bar chart. Surely all that it is showing is that as the war progressed the Wehrmacht sucked up a growing proportion of German manpower leaving Germany increasingly dependent on foreign forced/slave labour.
For this comment to make any sense you'd have to believe that Germany used foreign/forced labor only to replace domestic labor, rather than to increase its production and therefore its chances of winning the war. That's of course absurd. Germany wouldn't have left those forced laborers alone absent the Eastern Front, nor would it have allowed its idle soldiers to make Volkswagens and Lederhosen while German cities burned.
What I would question is some of the detail in the chart.
I misread the chart in my OP, though in my/our defense it's poorly-presented. The shaded bar isn't included in the top-tally of economic workers; neither is the Wehrmacht total.

That correction means that the Wehrmacht employed/lost 43% of male German workers in 1944, instead of the 30% cited in my OP.

In addition, the chart ignores those in Wehrmacht service in mid-'39 - about 2mil. That raises the Wehrmacht's share of German (male) manpower to ~50%.

...which of course makes my conclusion more emphatic: O'Brien's book completely ignores the services sector of the economy and thereby misses/mis-represents WW2 fundamentally.
If that is, indeed, O’Brien’s argument, then even without detailed analysis it is clearly a deeply flawed one. To suggest that Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk (and the subsequent summer/autumn offensives), Bagration, and the Soviet Vistula offensive of 1945 were somehow not decisive factors in the war would be absurd.
As with most of your post, IMO, this is a conclusory statement even though I agree with its conclusion. You aren't engaging O'Brien's analysis other than to restate the conventional wisdom against which his very intelligent (albeit wrong) book tilts. How do you respond to O'Brien's point that Germany spent about twice as much on war production against the West as it did against the SU? I give an answer but you're just parroting the default conventional wisdom of every book written over the last couple decades.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Jul 2020 06:41

Max Payload wrote:I am puzzled by Davies’ table. Is he actually assigning a dollar value to each individual human life?
First, apologies to Mr. Davie - yes that's Davie not Davies. My mistake.

He's not so much assigning a dollar value to human life as incorporating the "value of life" economics literature into his analysis. As with most of those analysts, Mr. Davie wouldn't say that the dollar value is a metaphysical/moral judgment, rather it's a "revealed preference" based on tradeoffs observed in many areas of human behavior. We could, for example, drastically reduce traffic fatalities by making everyone drive an Abrams tank at 30 km/h and requiring all street pavement to be 6 feet thick. The "value of life" economists infer from our unwillingness to make such tradeoffs a certain value for avoiding deaths and therefore for valuing life.

There is much to critique about that analysis, most of which would divert into meta-ethical questions far afield of AHF's domain (and I agree with most philosophical critiques of "value of life" economics, btw).

Even granting problems with "value of life" economics, however, Davie's point is still a powerful rejoinder to O'Brien: Germany spent far more human capital fighting the SU than it did fighting the West and to ignore that is missing something fundamental.

That said, the concededly problematic field of "value of life" economics has even greater problems when applied to matters of military effectiveness. Davie's analysis tacitly assumes that each life expended against the Axis/Allies has a similar military value. Clearly that's not true. However brave, the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who died in futile bonzai charges against the U.S. did no more damage - had far less military value - than a few divisions attrited by the Germans on the Eastern Front.

So I don't think "value of life" economics is the best rejoinder to O'Brien but even this sub-optimal calculation is sufficient to rebut him.

Max Payload
Member
Posts: 520
Joined: 21 Jun 2008 14:37

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by Max Payload » 05 Jul 2020 13:55

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
05 Jul 2020 06:22
Max Payload wrote:I am equally puzzled by the bar chart. Surely all that it is showing is that as the war progressed the Wehrmacht sucked up a growing proportion of German manpower leaving Germany increasingly dependent on foreign forced/slave labour.
For this comment to make any sense you'd have to believe that Germany used foreign/forced labor only to replace domestic labor, rather than to increase its production and therefore its chances of winning the war.
No. Germany was always looking to increase output, of which manpower is only a component. Equipment, infrastructure, transport, energy and raw material supply etc are all equally relevant. If manpower was all that mattered they would have transferred many millions of workers from the conquered territories in 1940. As the war progressed they increasingly needed foreign workers to man the lathes as the domestic lathe operators were inducted into the army.

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
05 Jul 2020 06:22
You aren't engaging O'Brien's analysis other than to restate the conventional wisdom against which his very intelligent (albeit wrong) book tilts. How do you respond to O'Brien's point that Germany spent about twice as much on war production against the West as it did against the SU? I give an answer but you're just parroting the default conventional wisdom of every book written over the last couple decades.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss conventional wisdom, it achieves that status for a reason. With regard to O’Brien’s point, how does the fact that only a third of German military expenditure was committed to the East render that front a less than decisive factor in the war?

Tom from Cornwall
Member
Posts: 2092
Joined: 01 May 2006 19:52
Location: UK

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 05 Jul 2020 14:35

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
03 Jul 2020 04:02
O'Brien argues that, for all major WW2 combatants except Russia, air and sea production dominated war production. From that fact, he argues that the air-sea war - and especially the West's contributions to it - were the real decisive factors in the war, not the Eastern Front.
The way I read it, I thought O'Brien's argument covers the global war though, so covers the Allies against the Axis in total, rather than being limited to the war against Germany alone. When seen from this perspective, rather than with a narrow "Germany first" focus, the resources the Allies committed against both the Italians and Japanese empires whilst still engaging with Germany need to be taken into account.

Unlike O'Brien though, I don't see this as being a choice that the British or Americans made, rather a rational commitment of resources when faced with the grand strategic situation they found themselves in after the two strategic shocks of the Fall of France and then the outbreak of war with Japan in late 1941.

Regards

Tom

User avatar
stg 44
Member
Posts: 3049
Joined: 03 Dec 2002 01:42
Location: illinois

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by stg 44 » 05 Jul 2020 16:44

Max Payload wrote:
05 Jul 2020 13:55
With regard to O’Brien’s point, how does the fact that only a third of German military expenditure was committed to the East render that front a less than decisive factor in the war?
If we do a thought experiment and remove the Wallies from the war and Germany adds that 2/3rds of expenditures to the East, what happens to that front? Can the Soviets win or do they lose? Similarly if we do the inverse and remove the Soviets from the war can the Wallies still win on their own?

Frankly both fronts benefited from each other, but I don't think the Wallies would fail to win without the USSR unless it was for political reasons: i.e. not wanting to suffer the necessary losses to win, while in the East I don't see how the Soviets could win if 100% of European Axis resources are able to be used in the East. One of the biggest problems the Wehrmacht had in the East was the loss of all the high value equipment (or production priorities) that was shifted West during 1942 and into 1943 or destroyed by Wallied bombers or lost through Allied economic warfare that wasn't connected to bombing (blockade, buying of neutral resources, etc.). Even without additional manpower, having 100% of the Luftwaffe+most of the resources that went into naval warfare+most of the resources that went into air defense would make the war effort in the East an entirely different animal even if we assume it's only a 50% production increase in resources devoted East rather than 2/3rds as you suggest.

Overy suggested that the German artillery park could have been easily doubled without all the investments into FLAK to fight the strategic air war considering that an 88mm FLAK gun cost twice as much as a 105mm howitzer. For one thing the coastal defense guns would all be available as artillery if not locked down in the Channel:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dover_Strait_coastal_guns

Or the Atlantic Wall.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Jul 2020 17:29

stg 44 wrote:
05 Jul 2020 16:44
Max Payload wrote:
05 Jul 2020 13:55
With regard to O’Brien’s point, how does the fact that only a third of German military expenditure was committed to the East render that front a less than decisive factor in the war?
If we do a thought experiment and remove the Wallies from the war and Germany adds that 2/3rds of expenditures to the East, what happens to that front? Can the Soviets win or do they lose? Similarly if we do the inverse and remove the Soviets from the war can the Wallies still win on their own?
That's an interesting question but it's not really responsive to O'Brien's point, which is about the relative importance of Eastern Front versus air/sea war.

The straw that breaks the camel's back may be decisive but it'd be an analytical mistake - I think he'd say and I have to agree - to focus on the last straw and ignore the giant straw bale.

Tom from Cornwall
Member
Posts: 2092
Joined: 01 May 2006 19:52
Location: UK

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 05 Jul 2020 17:44

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
05 Jul 2020 17:29

The straw that breaks the camel's back may be decisive but it'd be an analytical mistake - I think he'd say and I have to agree - to focus on the last straw and ignore the giant straw bale.
I guess the argument is actually that there were two giant straw bales and that they were more equal than some have recognised? Whether the "ground" bale is bigger or more important than the "air/sea" bale is the exact point that O'Brien is trying to make, isn't he? You think he's wrong, which is fair enough.

Regards

Tom

User avatar
stg 44
Member
Posts: 3049
Joined: 03 Dec 2002 01:42
Location: illinois

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by stg 44 » 05 Jul 2020 18:11

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
05 Jul 2020 17:29
stg 44 wrote:
05 Jul 2020 16:44
Max Payload wrote:
05 Jul 2020 13:55
With regard to O’Brien’s point, how does the fact that only a third of German military expenditure was committed to the East render that front a less than decisive factor in the war?
If we do a thought experiment and remove the Wallies from the war and Germany adds that 2/3rds of expenditures to the East, what happens to that front? Can the Soviets win or do they lose? Similarly if we do the inverse and remove the Soviets from the war can the Wallies still win on their own?
That's an interesting question but it's not really responsive to O'Brien's point, which is about the relative importance of Eastern Front versus air/sea war.

The straw that breaks the camel's back may be decisive but it'd be an analytical mistake - I think he'd say and I have to agree - to focus on the last straw and ignore the giant straw bale.
Ok? Not sure what your point is then. How relevant each front was? You can't really separate the impact of each front on the war from each other, as in Europe the WAllied fronts influenced what happened in the East and vice versa. The Western ones denied the German Eastern Front the firepower and mobility necessary to not only stabilize the front but potentially win it because most of the 'high tech' gear was in the Western Fronts, a point O'Brien makes in a paper on this same subject that became the basis for his book. Similarly the Eastern Front denied the Western Fronts the necessary manpower and extra equipment necessary to offset the 'high tech' gear the Wallies brought to the table in huge quantities. My point about the thought experiment of removing one or the other fronts from the war to see what the impact would be IMHO helps reveals which front was more decisive, because if one 'faction' of the Allies could still win without the other 'faction' in the war, that would tell you more about the relative importance of each.

IMHO also you cannot simply look at WW2 as just the war against Germany either, but as the Axis as a whole, otherwise you leave out the relatively large resources the WAllies had to devote against Japan and Italy or the value of their bombing of the Axis minor allies like Romania. Or even the value of Lend Lease. Remove that and the USSR loses the war even with the Wallies still in it. You also have to consider too how the war against the Wallies prevented Japan from attacking the USSR as well (including by keeping China in the war):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantokuen

Undoubtedly the USSR was important to the overall Allied war effort, but people have a tendency to ignore the utterly vital contributions the US and UK made in material and high tech areas because they had a relatively low body count thanks to their method of warfare and the blood bath the Eastern Front was.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Jul 2020 18:37

stg44 wrote:Ok? Not sure what your point is then. How relevant each front was?
I misinterpreted your post; read it before you added the parts that clarified things for me.

I wasn't really making my own point; I was trying to articulate O'Brien's point.
My point about the thought experiment of removing one or the other fronts from the war to see what the impact would be IMHO helps reveals which front was more decisive, because if one 'faction' of the Allies could still win without the other 'faction' in the war, that would tell you more about the relative importance of each.
Yep, didn't see that until after I wrote my post. I'm a huge fan of thought experiments and agree with your hypothetical analysis of the solo matchups.

But I don't agree that this is the right approach to answering at least one conception of "how the war was won."

My own thought experiment:

Two small countries, X and Y, go to war. X and Y are nearly evenly matched but X has the U.S. as an ally. For five years X and Y slaughter each other while the U.S. mostly watches - say the Americans fly 1 bombing sortie against Y over five years. After five years, however, the U.S. uses a small portion of its resources to amplify X's efforts by 10%, putting X over the hump against Y.

Who did most of the fighting? Clearly X.

How was the war won? Almost entirely by X, with a small assist from the U.S.

Under my conception of "how the war was won" it doesn't really matter if X would have lost to Y absent the small assist from the U.S. (say X is 1% less powerful than Y and therefore needed American help to prevail).

This is how I see WW2: Germany would have beaten the SU one-on-one. The SU needed the Wallies help to win but the Red Army did most of the fighting. Under any fair, normative concept of "how the war was won," it was won by the Red Army and enormous Soviet sacrifices and heroism.

Your thought experiment, IMO, addresses more of a hypothetical question rather than "how the war was won." I am of course deeply interested in those hypotheticals but I don't think that's the topic of O'Brien's book and I don't think it's what most people think of when considering "how the war was won."
IMHO also you cannot simply look at WW2 as just the war against Germany either, but as the Axis as a whole, otherwise you leave out the relatively large resources the WAllies had to devote against Japan and Italy or the value of their bombing of the Axis minor allies like Romania.
Again I'm just articulating O'Brien's point about the supposed non-centrality of the Eastern Front. Agreed that Japan took a huge portion of American efforts and destroyed a lot of potential British power.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: Der Alte Fritz on O'Brien's How the War was Won

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Jul 2020 18:48

Tom from Cornwall wrote:I guess the argument is actually that there were two giant straw bales and that they were more equal than some have recognised? Whether the "ground" bale is bigger or more important than the "air/sea" bale is the exact point that O'Brien is trying to make, isn't he?
See above re my misinterpretation of stg44's originally-truncated post.

On the larger issue yes, that is O'Brien's argument.

I'll give him this: he shows that the air/sea battle is underestimated by now-prevailing narratives that WW2 was all about the Eastern Front. German war production aimed at the Wallies was sorely missed by Ostheer.

I agree with Harrison, however, that O'Brien takes his revisionist argument too far. Way too far, IMO.

He does so by focusing exclusively on military goods, to the exclusion of military services - a really massive, fundamental error that I just can't fathom an editor/interlocutor missing (then again the book sold well so maybe a "hot take" was the point).

There are some other errors in the book that I'll maybe get around to discussing.

Return to “German Strategy & General German Military Discussion”