Just so that you know why we are not still fighting the Second World War, I thought I would share with you all the things that shortened the war. Most of them, according to their advocates, shortened the war by two years. Shortening the war by two years is the current form of historical measurement – a bit like an area of rain-forest the size of Wales being destroyed each year, or a quantity of radioactive waste big enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Anyway, off we go:
- A BBC documentary on transatlantic liners paid tribute to their work as troopships, moving thousands of American troops to Europe and North Africa, and, ‘according to Winston Churchill’, shortening the way by two years.
- Sir Harry Hinsley, official historian of British Intelligence in World War II, made a similar assessment about Ultra, the decoding by experts in Bletchley Park of the German Enigma coding machine. He claimed that it shortened the war “by not less than two years and probably by four years”. How much was added to the length of the war by the fact that German and Japanese boffins were reading British and American naval signals is not on record.
- The North American P-51 Mustang was a single seat fighter that, in its later versions, could escort allied bombers all the way to Berlin and back, reducing casualties and increasing the effectiveness of the bombing. The USC web-site claims that ‘its superior capabilities shortened the war incomprehensibly, if they did not in fact turn what would have been a brutal stalemate into victory for the Allies’.
- Which might have freed up the bomber force to deliver Lord Trenchard’s prediction: “if we decide to use it (bombing) in concentration and with determination we can not only save millions of lives but we can shorten the war perhaps by years.”
- General Dwight Eisenhower felt that the designer of the landing craft used in allied invasions in France, Africa and the Pacific made a crucial contribution. He is quoted as saying, “Andrew Higgins … is the man who won the war for us. … If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” Even Hitler recognized his heroic war efforts in ship production and bitterly called him the “New Noah.”
- Against his critics – and there were many in after years – Harry S. Truman took the responsibility for the atomic havoc inflicted on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because the bombs, he maintained, did shorten the war and did save millions of American and Japanese battlefield casualties.
- General Douglas MacArthur’s Chief of Staff for Military Intelligence, Major General Charles Willoughby said, “The Nisei (Japanese/American code breakers) shortened the Pacific War by two years and saved possibly a million American lives and saved probably billions of dollars.”
- YouTube pages pay tribute to the men of Britain’s elite Pathfinder Squadrons, who flew night-time missions over Germany and dropped flares onto strategically important targets, enabling bombers to find them more easily. “It was due to their efforts that Hitler’s military-industrial complex on the Ruhr sustained major damage in 1943, halving Nazi weapon production and effectively shortening the war”.
- The proximity fuse, which land and especially naval artillery gunfire more deadly by exploding when near a target, so eliminating the need for a direct hit, “shortened the war drastically”.
- Operation Mincemeat – which involved placing false documents on a dead body in naval uniform, and letting the Germans believe they showed the allies were about to invade Sardinia, not Sicily, also shortened the war by two years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewen_Montagu)
This is a cursory survey, leaving out the Avro Lancaster, the Vickers Wellington (‘Without it the course of the Second World War might have taken a different turn’), radar, the Rolls-Royce Merlin (“the engine that won the war”), the M15 carbine, Hedgehog and ASDIC anti-submarine devices and anything – T34 tanks, Sturmovik attack bombers – from the Russian side. I don’t deny the importance of the devices and tactics above – for what it’s worth, I think Enigma and the deployment of the A-bomb did shorten the war considerably – but to ask for a slightly less clichéd approach to military history.