Would modern tactics have ended World War II quicker?

A spin off from this thread, on the same question applied to the first installment of the Weltkrieg. Consensus was - no, modern strategy and tactics would have a hard time adapting to World War I conditions.

So let’s turn to the sequel. Premise is the same, we send back experienced generals who have commanded men in battle back to assume command of Allied forces. Western Allied forces. Anyone answering to Stalin - especially with new ideas that might contradict the vozhd - might end up in a gulag, Lubyanka’s basement or a ditch.

Since there’s a bit more of WWII to get through so let’s split the timelines a bit. First timeline, let’s send our modern generals to assume command of the BEF and French Army in September, 1939.
Second timeline, July 1940. The British Empire alone after the fall of France, our modern generals assume command of the Empire’s forces.
Third timeline, the Grand Alliance. January, 1942. Our generals assume command of British and American forces.

How much quicker would our modern ways of waging war end the unpleasant business? Obviously hindsight is the biggest advantage, but what other innovations could they bring?

Convoying ships across the Atlantic is one obvious place to start.

On the tactical level modern tactics really aren’t that different for large force on force battles. They are just adapted for current equipment. in particular secure and rapid communication to the lowest level.

On a strategic level it may be a disadvantage. The total war concept is no longer acceptable. Without precision weapons taking out the infrastructure of Germany and mass bombings being unacceptable for collateral damage it might be much more difficult to defeat them.

Well, yeah, I think they could make a difference here with the same caveats as in the other thread, i.e. if they were listened too and their orders were followed. Reorganize the French forces, especially their armor so that they weren’t deployed in penny packets but kept in reserve to be used against the panzer spearheads or to locally counter attack. Also, prepare for a defense that revolves around an Ardennes, while not telegraphing to the Germans that they were doing this or know that this is where the offensive will be coming through. And sort of along the lines of ‘hey guys, the secret is bang those rocks together!’, have the French and Brits put those radio thingies IN the freaking tanks. :stuck_out_tongue:

Things along those lines would probably prevent the disastrous collapse of the Frence and BEF later in 1940. The French actually had better and more numerous tanks, but they were so scattered that they did them no good, and the fact that the Brits and French were caught off foot by their mistake of where the real invasion was coming from is what led to the disaster. knowing what the Germans were going to do and preparing to counter it would be more than half the battle, because a lot of what happened was really psychological shock that the allies never recovered from initially. Halt the Germans attack and throw it back and the war would probably be over, as I doubt Hitler would survive at that time with a major defeat on his hands.

Also, assuming this general had the ear of the politicians he could talk about things like jets and battle tank design, at least in broad terms and get the R&D folks looking in the right directions, though I doubt those weapons would even be needed if the German offensive in May of 1940 were crushed or at least decisively stopped and France undefeated.

Well, the BEF and France would be fucked and at that point I doubt the modern general could do a lot to help in the short term…really, would be more about basic knowledge of how the war would progress (he could re-assure Churchill that, indeed, the US would enter the war). There are still some focused R&D this general could orient the Brits towards (again, jets and things like that).

Whatdya reckon they’d make of airborne drops as carried out in a 1940s style? Apart from D-Day (and even that was a bit of a SNAFU) they all seemed to have the scent of disaster about them, with the amount of men, time and resources put in not reflected in the results. My own guess - scrap the entire idea and have airborne fight as regular infantry.

Another thought - what would they do with Allied air forces? Would they have continued to bomb cities? My guess - a huge change in policy starting with closer integration with ground forces as ‘flying artillery’, which the air chiefs at the time were always opposed to as it detracted from the strategic bombing offensive.

How do modern commanders deal with enemy tanks?

They had no idea how to drag a war out back then. Send a present day general back to WW 2 and we’d still be fighting WW 2 now!

Tanks!!! … and anti-tank weapons in the hands of the infantry. Shaped charge weapons were new in WWII. Anti-tank guns were still a valid choice in the era - less mobile but for a fixed position could provide the punch and range that something shoulder fired and man carried lacks. In an era without effective ATGMs the gun may be the next best thing for heavy AT. Some foreshadowing could have helped the Brits skip the PIAT for something more like the bazooka or panzerpaust models. Prompting development of something like the RPG-7 would have been technologically feasible. Effective use of obstacles (natuiral and man made) to slow or channelize the vehicles also helps when integrated in to the overall defense. Mobile defenses tend to be heavily used as well so you aren’t simply bypassed.

Hopefully the modern general could disabuse the Americans of the split tank/tank destroyer concept as well. That really got in the way of developing a tank with an effective anti-tank gun since tanks weren’t supposed to fight tanks in that concept.

We haven’t won a war since WW2. The Powell Doctrine would probably help, go in with overwhelming force and clear strategic goals, but he’d have to talk Roosevelt into it. FDR wanted to send just enough troops so we’d have enough labor at home to get the economy back into high gear after the Depression. Imagine, Powell had a force of 500,000 to fight the weakest country on Earth in open desert terrain while FDR fought the Nazi hordes with only 300,000 actual combat troops.

Something that would have really helped the French out is if they had placed a greater faith in the Maginot line; after spending all of the money building it they proceeded to deploy their forces as if it wasn’t there. The Maginot line was held by the Second and Third Army Groups, leaving only the First Army Group in the north. While it was the largest of the three, the Maginot line could have been held by a substantially smaller force, freeing up reserves.

Huh? You’ve directly contradicted yourself; we very clearly won Desert Storm in 1991. I’ve no idea where you get the notion that FDR only wanted to send “just enough troops”; between three and a half and four million troops served in the ETO. If you mean of those 4 million only 300,000 were in actual combat arms you’re comparing apples and oranges, 500,000 is the total force sent in Desert Storm. If anything the tooth to tail ratio has shifted even further towards the tail since WW2.

And may I remind you all of the LIBERATION OF GRENADA???

Back on topic, is there anything about warfighting doctrine that would have helped in WWII? I know nothing about this so I’m just spitballing, but what about Special Forces–developing and deploying more small units like this to disrupt the rear and supply lines of the panzer advance?

Also what are the assumptions of the exercise–does the modern general know about all the tech that’s to come, as well as the historical outcome of the war, or does she have amnesia about most things except strategy and tactics? Hard to separate tech from tactics, probably–eg to know about spotters guiding JDAMS, you have to know about JDAMS.

The only thing I can think of is if U.S. troops went into combat in North Africa already knowing “modern tactics,” rather than making a bungle of things out of ignorance and having to learn the art of modern warfare pretty much all over.

If U.S. troops could have skipped re-inventing the wheel, they might have shortened the war a bit.

If Soviet troops had tactical skills equal to German troops, that could certainly have shortened the war. Their tactics were a bit on the rough side.

But…really, by 1943, the allies pretty much knew the keys to modern warfare: combined arms, “blitz” tactics, encirclement, etc.

Probably by telling the idiotic US Army procurement that we needed a main battle tank with a real gun on it, and that the Sherman wasn’t, in fact, the bees knees, especially with that puny 75 it started off with. Also, that the doctrine of lightly armed and separate tank hunter units was pretty silly and should be scrapped in favor of, you know, a main battle tank. There was no reason the US couldn’t have gone into the war in '42/'43 with an MBT as good as anything the Germans had and still be able to build a metric butt load of the things except stubborn stupidity. If said General got there in '40 or '41 he could, perhaps, have done that and maybe even built something like the M113 around a Sherman chassis with the troop loading ramp in back as well…maybe with something like the Brads 25mm chain gun as well. Also, emphasize training (same as in the other thread…maybe said General could bring a few drill instructors with him too :p).

I agree. The bazooka was actually a pretty simple weapon and it could have been built in quantity in 1939. And a weapon that let a small group of infantrymen have a realistic chance of destroying a tank would have been a major game changer in 1939 and 1940.

There would have been no change at all. The Allied errors were strategic, not tactical. Their soldiers would not have benefitted from better tactics.

Things like “the Sherman sucks” (it didn’t, it was better than most German tanks) aren’t tactical questions. Tactics were by 1941-1942 pretty much what they are now.

Another suggestion - copy the German panzerfaust, which in the later stages of the war was a serious thorn in the side of Allied and Soviet armour. Cheap to make, easy to use.

I’ve always scratched my head over why it took the Allies so long to stick a bigger gun on the Sherman and come up with the Firefly. I started a prior thread on Allied tanks being crap, responses suggested I was thinking of particularly the Sherman in too modern terms as a MBT, which it emphatically was not, it was intended as a general ‘workhorse’ and infantry support. Plus there’s the argument that 1 on 1 a Sherman vs a Tiger = a dead Sherman, the tables turn when the Allies can churn out Shermans at a far faster rate than the Germans could produce Tigers.

My fault, as in the prior thread I meant to specify “…and modern understanding of logistics and strategy,” didn’t include this in the title as it would get a bit long, you’ll have to forgive me for implying that tactics and strategy are the same thing.

Well, the Firefly was a British variant using a British gun…which is why the US didn’t adopt it. :stuck_out_tongue: There was a US variant (several actually) of the Sherman early on that had increased frontal armor and a larger gun and larger turret and turret ring, but it was also rejected (I think a few prototypes were built but then the whole project was dropped) because the US Army procurement was convinced that what we had was good enough (they actually thought it was the best tank on the battlefield, even after reports of the Tiger I started trickling in). This is also why the M-26 lagged in development…the US Army simply didn’t think we needed something like this, and they were also wedded to the split doctrine of tanks as infantry support and lightly armored, up-gunned and fast tank hunters to kill the other sides tanks.

Your time traveling general, however, could have pointed out the flaws in both of these ideas and perhaps gotten some movement. Like I said, there was no practical reason the US couldn’t have fielded a MBT…even one based on the Sherman design…that was every bit as capable as, say, a Panther (certainly as the Panzer IVs, even those with applique armor and up-gunned themselves), and had them in similar numbers to the Sherman’s we actually did produce and deploy. We could have had 10’s of thousands of up-gunned Sherman’s AND M-26s for a bit more heavily armored forces by the time we were invading Normandy, if not before, if someone pushed for it.

Tactically, I don’t think there was much else that really needed to be done, though having a knowledge of what the Germans (and Japanese) were going to do would have given the allies a huge advantage, especially early in the war. I suppose another thing that they COULD have done was get the development and production of the P-51s rolling earlier…as with the Sherman, there is no reason why it couldn’t have been flying much, much earlier. I believe the air frame was developed in the late 30’s or early '40, and the engine was the Merlin from the Brits. It just took the US a long time to put the two together and then adopt the thing, time this time traveler might have been able to cut. It would have given the allies a far superior fighter much earlier in the game, which also could have had an impact.

A time traveler could certainly shorten the war by providing historical information, or technical specs. But tactically, not so much. Things like “don’t build tank destroyers” aren’t really tactical innovations.

I’m not sure modern understanding of logistics and strategy are conceptually different, either. The Allies demonstrated no lack of understanding of those things.

The disaster of the Battle of France was a consequence of politics and poor intelligence, not doctrine. Allied doctrine was not, contrary to popular belief, much different from German doctrine, but the Allies simply had their troops in the wrong place, anticipating an attack from the wrong direction, which was not correctly met by allies who were politically at odds and dependent on an army that was inferior to its opponent, very quickly demoralized, and started the war uninterested in fighting and therefore was easily convinced that the war was pointless the instant things went wrong. Obviously if your time travelling general was blessed with hindsight he could have put the troops in the right place, but that’s not a different in understanding, it’s a difference in knowledge.

Our time travelling general, to make things fair, would have to not know anything more than the Allies actually knew, and his army would be equally doomed. No strategy developed since 1940 would have changed the outcome of the Battle of France, nor would any doctrinal knowledge have changed the politics of the situation.

I would say the one doctrinal improvement a modern general would have immediately made would be redeployment of armor from packets into dedicated striking forces, and indeed there were occasions when French armor used as a shock force had success against the Germans.

It is obvious in hindsight the Allies would have been wise to invade Germany when the Germans were occupied in Poland, but that’s not a modern idea; it was suggested then, and rejected for political reasons. The schism between the British and French, and indeed amongst the French themselves, is often forgotten but cannot possibly be overstated; the Allies were an absolute mess and the French government and its people were simply not prepared for general war. While I am contemptuous of people who regard the French as cowards - their martial history is filled with brilliance and glory, and as I like to say, there’s a reason so many military terms are French - their performance in 1940 was absolutely every bit as terrible as it could have been. Their army and leaders, with a few exceptions, gave up almost immediately. No general could have changed that.

In fact, let’s be honest; France HAD THAT GENERAL. His name was Charles de Gaulle. (Okay, he was a colonel at the time.) De Gaulle totally understood modern warfare, and he led troops with great skill in 1940, but the country he was fighting for wasn’t up to the task.

I have to disagree with that one. Doctrine and the weapons systems are inter-related. Doctrinal changes can both be driven by weapons available/feasible and drive the research/procurement of weapons systems. Tank destroyers, and tanks with less than optimal antitank capability, were built because doctrine specified those roles. Don’t build tank destroyers is really saying change the doctrine that drove their development and fielding in the first place. That’s an actual lesson from more modern doctrines that sometimes still include tank destroyer like things (ATGM carriers) but doesn’t limit the design of the tank on a misguided notion that tanks won’t usually fight other tanks.

The Germans fell prey to some of the notion of more specialized vehicles early on as well. The Panzer IVs early short 75mm gun was pretty awful against armor. It was designed to provide supporting HE fires while the Panzer III fought enemy armor. The fact that the Panzer IV had more room to upgrade is what allowed it to become what it wasn’t designed to be (when the smaller Panzer III turret ring constrained it). The infantry support tank vs cruiser tank concepts to exploit breakthroughs held some sway in British and French designs and doctrinal usage.

The Germans also had some internal disagreement over assault guns. Lacking a turret it was cheaper to build and easy to mount a large gun. It was also more limited, especially offensively, because of that lack of turret. That so many were built was largely a matter of economics (and Hitler’s whims) than German doctrine pushing for them. German leaders then had to figure out how best to doctrinally employ the capabilities. The was more a case of procurement and economics forcing evolution of doctrinal employment.

Designing doctrine for how you organize, equip, and fight an army isn’t tactical in a “have 2nd Brigade attack in to the flank” decision in a command post sense. It’s the foundation for what happens on the battlefield…the design of the tactics.

Exactly. Good post. :slight_smile: