October 08, 2018

Open Thread 10

It's time once again for our regular Open Thread.

I've taken to highlighting a link in these posts, and for today, I'm going to call out the blog WWII after WWII. It's an investigation of the postwar careers of various pieces of equipment, ranging from guns to ships. Particularly good posts are on the experimental destroyer Timmerman, the mothballing of the fleet, and catapult aviation.

Also, anyone who can't see the captcha should try going to navalgazing.net. I'm migrating to my own domain, and it seems that a few things aren't working at the previous one.

Comments

  1. October 08, 2018dndnrsn said...
    1. Has anyone read Omer Bartov's "Hitler's Army" who would like to discuss its central thesis, and its implications? (I've got some thoughts but am in a hurry right now)

    2. I know I've seen our host express the opinion before that nuclear winter was an overhyped threat - that the whole "enough megatons will cause an ice age" type thing wasn't for real. Is there any decent coverage of the modern consensus on what would happen to the climate if there was a major nuclear exchange?

  2. October 08, 2018bean said...

    Trying to get a consensus on nuclear science is a really messy task. The serious work is mostly done by scientists at government labs, and they usually don't publish their work where we mortals can see. The work that does get published is often done by activists, and they regularly do silly things to inflate their numbers. There was a major discussion of this in SSC OT 47.

  3. October 08, 2018Johan Larson said...

    What was the most morally flawed thing each country did in WWII?

    For Canada, I think that's the internment of Japanese-Canadians, although I suppose a case could be made for our participation in the firebombing of German cities, too. Or maybe keeping out people -- particularly Jews -- trying to flee the Third Reich.

  4. October 08, 2018bean said...

    Interesting question. Germany is fairly obvious, while Japan is probably their slaughter of the civilian population in China. For the US, I'm having trouble deciding. My views on internment are unconventional (it was not a good thing, but it was done for better reasons that most people know) and most of the rest of the things the US did fall under "couldn't be helped", so I guess I have to go with that, with a huge asterisk. I will single out the British dehousing campaign as particularly stupid and immoral. Not only did it kill a bunch of people more or less at random, it also didn't work. (As opposed to the firebombing of Japan, which did.)

  5. October 08, 2018Chuck said...

    @dndnrsn

    I think the overall idea of nuclear winter has been not been discredited so much as the assumptions made don't really square up with the modern world. In particular, the early research was based in part on the calculations done for firebombing in WWII, and involved very dense cities built primarily of timber. In contrast, modern construction is much less flammable, provides less fuel, and is not a densely packed as what was present prior to WWII.

    This is not to say that a nuclear war wouldn't have significant ecological impact, but I think the larger impact would be related to the disruption in human activity. Exactly how that would affect things is anyone's guess.

  6. October 08, 2018Johan Larson said...

    The internments would look a lot better if they had been selective. I can easily believe that some Japanese-Americans were pro-back-home enough to be worth doing something about. But everyone? Hmm. And drafting the younger men out of the camps while their families remained in them was a real dick move.

  7. October 08, 2018dndnrsn said...

    Regarding Bartov's thesis:

    His thesis (someone correct me if this is inadequate summary) is that post-war Western explanations of the resilience of German military morale were inadequate. Those explanations looked at German soldiers as mostly apolitical, and as fighting for their primary group. Bartov notes that these are based on interviews of POWs (who aren't going to say they were gung-ho Nazis) taken by the Western Allies. The vast majority of German casualties were on the Eastern Front, where the fighting was more intense; the scale of the casualties was enough to make it extremely difficult for primary groups to form and survive.

    Bartov's explanation, then, is that the troops were increasingly driven by national socialist ideology, especially the sense that the war in the East was a racially-based war of annihilation. They were also driven by the fear (the recognition?) that the crimes they had committed in the east would be avenged by the Soviets.

    The implication of this is that totalitarian ideology (presumably his thesis would apply to the Soviets as well: they suffered even greater casualties than the Germans did, and their military morale never broke) is an effective military motivator. I find this implication troubling, to say the least.

  8. October 08, 2018bean said...

    @Johan

    The internment were largely driven by the citizens and congresscritters of the western states, who wanted the Neisi gone, and wanted them gone now. The Army mostly wanted them out of areas of importance to the war, which would have meant wholesale exile from most of the coast. There were families who moved inland, then got rounded up anyway. The Army initially tried to resettle them, but every state west of the Mississippi refused to take them. The problem is how to shut something like that down. Sending them back gets you riots in California, and that's bad for everybody. Apparently, people were allowed to leave the camps for a couple of years before they were shut down, but there was nowhere to go.

    As for selectivity, that's a lot easier to do today, when we have much better data-processing systems. Back then, it just wasn't possible.

  9. October 09, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Did the French do anything worse than collaborate with the Holocaust?

  10. October 09, 2018bean said...

    Some of their dealings with the Thais in the Far East were pretty bad, but probably not enough to pass the fairly high bar of "collaborating with the Holocaust".

  11. October 09, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    @dndnrsn: Bartov sounds to me like privileging a hypothesis--saying that if it wasn't primary-unit loyalty, it must be an innate advantage of totalitarianism. A few skeptical questions:

    First, does he convincingly demonstrate German morale was especially good? Was it actually better than could be expected from non-controversial causes of morale such as training level? Who are the examples of armies with demonstrated worse morale--were there glaring differences between them and Germany besides ideology?

    Second, that description of the fighting in the East sort of makes it sounds like they just raised the general no-quarter-ness of the fighting in a way that affected both sides and didn't create a clear net advantage. Does Bartov address this possibility?

    Third, didn't Italy have a totalitarian ideology too? Admittedly I'm going on stereotype here, but the stereotype is that their military performance was... not equal to Germany's. More generally, it seems like you'd make this case by examining the military performance of as many countries as possible, not just one.

  12. October 09, 2018dndnrsn said...

    @ADifferentAnonymous

    I'm not necessarily doing his book justice, and I recommend it (it's not a very long book, either, so nobody's committing to reading a thousand-page history to be able to talk about it).

    1. It is not so much that their morale was especially good, as that they kept fighting in situations where one would reasonably expect their morale to utterly crumble. It might be in part linked to training, but the quality of German training generally went down as the war went on (as tends to happen). Bartov talks about the Germans executing more and more "deserters" and defeatists and so on as the war went on, but that's linked to ideology, at least in part.

    2. It didn't create a net advantage, probably. Neither side could have fought the war in the east while following rules of "civilized" war, most likely.

    3. The Italians were famously less competent than the Germans, militarily speaking. The case can be made that the Italian fascists were far less successful at building a totalitarian system than the Germans were, as well.

  13. October 10, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    @dndnrsn How do we know that one should expect their morale to have utterly crumbled? I mostly expect two classes of answers: 1) Because the conditions were really, really bad. 2) Because when other armies have faced similar conditions, their morale has always crumbled.

    Your summary hints at class 1 answers and not class 2. But class 1 answers can't prove that e.g. American or British soldiers wouldn't have held up just as well under the same conditions.

  14. October 10, 2018Alex said...

    It seems like the most natural explanation for German morale staying intact fighting the Soviets was, quite simply, that they were fighting the Soviets. Both sides of that front put Genghis Khan to shame, and the idea of letting those barbarians invade your homeland must have been horrifying. The Soviets resisted horrible hammer-blows, and so did the Germans, because in both cases the alternative was massive atrocities being inflicted on your family.

  15. October 11, 2018Johan Larson said...

    Zimbabwe is a poor, politically troubled country in southern Africa. You may heard of Robert Mugabe; he ran Zimbabwe for decades, but was recently ousted.

    Zimbabwe has an air force with 82 aircraft.

    Best bet, how many of these aircraft can get off the ground right now?

  16. October 11, 2018bean said...

    Best bet, how many of these aircraft can get off the ground right now?

    All of them, given a sufficiently large crane.

    Serious answer: These numbers are always a bit fluid, depending on how much time you have and how hard you push. Obviously, if your metric is "can get off the ground in 10 minutes", it's going to be low for even the USAF. If it's "how many can we schedule in normal operations", I'd guess it's somewhere between 25 and 50%. You could bring that up with a short-term push for serviceability and a few days to weeks, but it wouldn't be sustainable long-term.

  17. October 11, 2018Johan Larson said...

    And what would a comparable figure be for a first-world air force? Not 100%, right? In a fleet of hundreds of vehicles, there's always something in the shop.

  18. October 11, 2018bean said...

    That varies greatly by platform, force, and budgetary state. The USAF average is around 70% right now, and I'd be surprised if it ever got above 80%. Older and more complex platforms are lucky to break 50% (the B-1 and B-2 fleets are particularly bad) while simpler aircraft are pretty high. Here is a source with more details.

  19. October 11, 2018dndnrsn said...

    @ADifferentAnonymous

    I believe Bartov makes comparisons to the collapse of civilian and military morale in (authoritarian, but not totalitarian) WWI Germany. I can't recall if he mentions civilian morale in the Western Allied countries.

    Based on what I know of war-weariness in the US in late '44/early '45, the conscription crisis in Canada, etc, I can't imagine morale would have held up under the kind of hammer-blows Germany and the USSR both received. They were already taking heavier casualties than they had expected (I don't know about the UK off the top of my head, but I know that both the US and Canadian armies in NW Europe suffered a serious shortage of infantry replacements).

    @Alex

    Bartov talks about the role of ideology in this - it is hard to separate the awful behaviour of the Germans on the Eastern Front from Nazi race-war doctrine. Likewise, the Soviet system was clearly one cool with millions of people dying to serve an ideological purpose.

  20. October 12, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    @dndnrsn Ah, comparison to WW1 Germany... That's a good enough argument that I'll so trying to debunk it without having read it. I'm skeptical about citing US and Canadian civilians, though, because they weren't in a less severe version of the same situation as Germany, they were in a completely different situation.

  21. October 15, 2018RedRover said...

    @Alex

    Both sides of that front put Genghis Khan to shame, and the idea of letting those barbarians invade your homeland must have been horrifying. The Soviets resisted horrible hammer-blows, and so did the Germans, because in both cases the alternative was massive atrocities being inflicted on your family.

    I think this is also supported by the differences in how the end game was conducted. While the Germans put up strong resistance on the Western Front, towards the end they would occasionally concede towns or put up token resistance, to say nothing of the units fleeing westward to surrender to the US/UK rather than the Soviets. I don't think this ever really happened on the Eastern Front, and this divergence seems informative.

  22. October 17, 2018bean said...

    I feel compelled to commemorate the recent death of Paul Allen, who has funded numerous expeditions looking for sunken warships over the past few years. Notable finds include Indianapolis, Lexington and Musashi. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that.

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