Friday, February 6, 2015

WWII & 'small science' : how new WWII small science infantry weapons helped create our post-war post-modern world

The usual guff about WWII was that the Axis infantry soldier was far better than the Axis infantry soldier but the Allies won because of their superior BIG SCIENCE, with the big war-ending A-Bomb delivered in the big B-29 bomber offered up as a key proof.

But is any of this true ?

Could it not be claimed that while the (relatively few) Axis soldiers actually were a fair better - as individuals - than the average Allied soldier, the Allies had such potentially large numbers of recruits available that the advantage should have gone to the Allies by sheer weight of numbers.

But the Allies deliberately choose to starve their infantry both in manpower and even more critically, in material.

Because the key reason why the German infantry was so superior was that the Germans invented some small science infantry weapons so good the world is still using them as warfare blueprints 75 years later.

The Allied infantry doctrine focussed on squads of mostly riflemen slowly firing rifles discharging large, long range, bullets.

Things like squad level light machine guns were relatively few in number and pretty pitiful as suppression fire weapons.

By contrast, the Germans focussed on supplying each infantry squad with a number of a superior general purpose air-cooled machine gun .

The MG42 was made cheaply, quickly and lightly of stamped parts.

It was most famous for a very rapid rate of fire - sustained by the use of endlessly linked belts of ammunition, not small magazines, and by the ability to change the overly-hot barrels in seconds.

More importantly in the big picture, being so light for such a deadly weapon, it could be easily carried into battle and fired by one soldier, if need be - supplying the fire power of an entire typically combat-thinned British battalion of bolt action rifles.

The fact that German ammunition was generally far less smokey than Allied ammo, meant this one-man-battalion could remain better concealed longer.

Next in importance was the Germans heavy use of the infantry level mortar - an improved version of WWI's most significant infantry level invention - the British Stokes mortar.

Thanks to pipe manufacturer Wilfred Stokes, mortars, in an instant of inspired invention by this sheer amateur, went from being a big bulky heavy bit of artillery to something that ultimately a single soldier could carry and fire.

Again, it multiplied the ability of one or two foot soldiers to impede an entire advancing battalion.

It could be fire from the lee side of a hill and hit advancing troops without them being able to directly fire at it.

The WWI sniper rifle was also improved - more consistent matching of ammo and individual gun barrel and better optical scopes.

All three impeded, from a safe distance , a broad front infantry advance over open ground.

And their price for doing so - peanuts, both to make and keep supplied with ammunition.

 And they totally resisted technological obsolescence that doomed so many highly expensive Big Science weapons within months of delivery. They remain deadly to this day, in their original WWII or even WWI configurations.

Can't say that about WWI and WWII planes, tanks or subs now can we ?

And for close combat, particularly in built-up areas, three other German weapons proved small science could still best Big Science.

The German anti-tank mine was a very cheap and very low tech weapon , considering it could take out one of the leading edges of WWII warfare - the fifty plus ton Main Battle Tank.

Military leadership as carefully counted the estimated totals of MBTs on each side in WWII as they had counted estimates of dreadnoughts in WWI.

The German's 1944 Topfmine for instance was made of a casing of tar-covered cardboard - to resist water, detection and because it was light and dirt cheap.

With the use of a shovel, it was literally dirt-cheap to employ by the tens of thousands as well.

The German Faust Patrone was a very cheap and low tech one time use recoilless weapon that could destroy medium tanks and stop a big tank by destroying its tracks.

Weapon and firing tube together weighed only 3 kilos and was a metre long, the tube being made of cheap stamped steel and wood.

It was easily carried and used by one soldier , who would remain mobile enough to make it hard for tank or accompanying infantry to hit him.

It fired a very low velocity projectile about 30 metres - thanks to its low tech centuries old black powder propelling charge.

 Yet with its carefully shaped explosive charge of only a third of a kilogram it was easy able to penetrate six inches of armour.

It proved even more useful at destroying infantry strong point bunkers.

For the first time ever, even super thick armour was defeated without the need for a large, bulky, heavy artillery piece with long thick gun barrel , elaborate mounting system and case-hardened shell to penetrate armour.

At the very short ranges typical of combat in city streets, a well concealed, poorly trained one man team could fire a cheap 3 kg weapon more effectively than a bulky, hard to move, expensive 7000 kg 88mm anti-tank weapon with a large highly trained crew!

Now even the relatively light MG42 is a big bulky heavy piece of overkill in city combat. Its ability to kill two kilometres away usually irrelevant.

But a single solder firing a lightweight, cheap (stamped-parts) sub machine gun firing pistol strength small cartridges was more effective - more mobile, better able to carry more (smaller) rounds upon themselves.

Instead of mortars lobbing explosives up from concealed positions, this soldier also made free use of small, light cheap hand grenades.

All this little science infantry weapons had an enormous impact , post WWII - in fact helping to bring about our post-modern world .

Post modern in the sense that a truly key hallmark of Modernity - advanced nations lording it over small less advanced nation in the form of imperialism and colonies -  has totally died away.

It all happened when nationalist rebels began using these sorts of small science infantry weapons in rural and urban settings .

That made for such big casualties that Big Science/low casualties oriented western nations gave up their colonies rather than endure losing such long term and asymmetrical wars ....

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