The Changing Nature of Warfare in the 20th Century



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The Changing Nature of Warfare in the 20th Century

  • Revision notes

Warfare at the beginning of the twentieth century: land

  • Warfare at the beginning of the twentieth century: land
  • There had been little change in tactics in land warfare since the Napoleonic wars
  • Commanders still placed a great importance on the role of the cavalry, soldiers on horseback, as an offensive weapon.
  • There was an increasing emphasis on mass infantry attacks
  • Most countries had introduced conscription. The German army increased from 500,000 in 1900 to one and a half million in 1914.

The railway brought faster and more efficient transport of troops, weapons and supplies

  • The railway brought faster and more efficient transport of troops, weapons and supplies
  • The light field gun, based on the French 75mm gun, was standard equipment and could fire up to 20 shells a minute.
  • The breech-loading rifle remained the standard weapon for the infantryman together with the bayonet.
  • The machine gun, capable of firing up to 600 rounds a minute, was in common use. It was capable of inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.

Warfare at the beginning of the century: at sea

  • Warfare at the beginning of the century: at sea
  • Armour-plating produced vessels protected by steel more than a foot thick.
  • Battleships had rotating, armoured gun-turrets and 15 inch guns.
  • HMS Dreadnought was completed in 1906. It was powered by steam turbines making it two knots per hour faster than its nearest rival.

The submarine was developed at the very beginning of the twentieth century.

  • The submarine was developed at the very beginning of the twentieth century.
  • The aeroplane was only invented in 1903. In 1912 the British set up the Royal Flying Corps. No other country began the First World War with a properly trained air force.

Changing methods of land warfare: The First World War

  • Changing methods of land warfare: The First World War
  • The failure of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan led to trench warfare and three years of stalemate.
  • Machine guns accounted for 90% of Allied victims at the Battle of the Somme, in 1916.
  • Commanders used the mass infantry attack across no-man’s land. This resulted in very heavy casualties on both sides.

The Germans were the first to use poisonous gas at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915. The Allies soon retaliated.

  • The Germans were the first to use poisonous gas at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915. The Allies soon retaliated.
  • Gas was unsuccessful because the wind in France generally blew in the direction of the Germans, which prevented them using it very often.
  • Both sides used a constant bombardment of enemy positions before an attack. At one stage, the Germans had over 20,000 heavy guns.

Tanks were first used during the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916, but were too slow and unreliable with many breaking down.

  • Tanks were first used during the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916, but were too slow and unreliable with many breaking down.
  • They proved decisive in the Allied successes of July-November 1918.

The Second World War

  • The Second World War
  • Blitzkrieg used shock tactics. Motorised vehicles, tanks and air power were co-ordinated by radio communications as they pushed deep into enemy territory.
  • Reinforcements would then follow the advance forces and take secure control of the territory captured.
  • Parachutists were dropped behind enemy lines to capture bridges and other important targets and further disrupt communications.

Dive-bombers moved ahead of the tanks and attacked enemy strong points.

  • Dive-bombers moved ahead of the tanks and attacked enemy strong points.
  • The French had constructed the Maginot Line. Hitler’s armies simply by-passed the Maginot Line by making a daring advance through the Ardennes region of Belgium in May 1940.
  • Blitzkrieg was very effective in the German invasion of the Soviet Union of June 1941.
  • Ultimately it proved unsuccessful due to a combination of the huge distances involved, the impact of the severe Russian winter and the strong Soviet resistance.

Early German Panzer mark II tanks were only 10 tonnes in weight and armed with 20mm guns.

  • Early German Panzer mark II tanks were only 10 tonnes in weight and armed with 20mm guns.
  • Four years later, the Germans were using Tiger mark II tanks weighing 68 tonnes and armed with 88mm guns.
  • In July 1943, the Germans launched an attack on the Russians at Kursk. In the greatest tank battle in history, the Germans were defeated mainly due to the highly effective Soviet T34 tanks.

Guerrilla Tactics

  • Guerrilla Tactics
  • In the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong, led by Ho Chi Minh, were heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the US and South Vietnamese forces in open warfare.
  • Guerrilla warfare proved to be a nightmare for the US army. Guerrillas did not wear uniform. They attacked and then disappeared into the jungle, into the villages or into their tunnels.

The Viet Cong fighters were expected to be courteous and respectful to the Vietnamese peasants. They often helped the peasants in the fields during busy periods.

  • The Viet Cong fighters were expected to be courteous and respectful to the Vietnamese peasants. They often helped the peasants in the fields during busy periods.
  • Similar tactics were employed in Afghanistan by the Mujaheddin, rebel tribesman who opposed the Soviet invasion of 1979.
  • They successfully attacked Russian supply routes and shot at their planes. By 1988 they controlled over 75% of the country.

Changing methods of sea and aerial warfare

  • Changing methods of sea and aerial warfare
  • At Jutland the German battleships inflicted heavier losses on the British. Nevertheless it was a strategic victory for the British.
  • In the early stages of the war, German U-boats concentrated their attacks on Allied warships.
  • From 1916 unrestricted U-boat warfare allowed Allied ships to be torpedoed without warning. This proved very effective and by June 1917 Britain had lost 500,000 tons to the U-boats and London only had six weeks’ supply of food left.

From mid-1917 almost all merchant ships travelled in convoys. British and US ships escorted merchant ships in close formation

  • From mid-1917 almost all merchant ships travelled in convoys. British and US ships escorted merchant ships in close formation
  • Allied shipping losses fell by 20% when the convoy system was introduced.
  • U-boats also played an important role in the Second World War. During the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic, U-boats were able to avoid detection.

Wolf packs of U-boats were able to lie in wait and torpedo the convoys in mid-Atlantic. In 1941 the Allies lost 1300 ships rising to 1661 in the following year.

  • Wolf packs of U-boats were able to lie in wait and torpedo the convoys in mid-Atlantic. In 1941 the Allies lost 1300 ships rising to 1661 in the following year.
  • From late 1941 onwards, the British code breakers at Bletchley Park got better at decoding German codes. Between May 1942 and May 1943, they managed to steer 105 out of 174 convoys across the Atlantic without any interference from U-boats.

Special support groups of destroyers were created fitted with powerful radar and listening equipment that could pick up on radio signals from U-boats

  • Special support groups of destroyers were created fitted with powerful radar and listening equipment that could pick up on radio signals from U-boats
  • Between June and December 1943 the Allies sank 141 U-boats, losing only 57 ships themselves.
  • Aircraft carriers had been under development since the First World War
  • In November 1940, Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from the British carrier, HMS Illustrious, sank three Italian battleships within Taranto Harbour.

The Japanese navy quickly obtained a full report and used aircraft from aircraft carriers to attack the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941

  • The Japanese navy quickly obtained a full report and used aircraft from aircraft carriers to attack the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
  • Control of the Pacific was dependant on a combination of air and sea power. At Midway in May 1942 when the Americans destroyed four Japanese carriers, they did the very thing the Japanese had failed to do at Pearl Harbor.

Air

  • Air
  • In the early stages of the First World War, the most important aircraft were airships. German airships, known as Zeppelins, were used to bomb British towns.
  • The first raids were in 1915. They achieved psychological damage – civilians in Britain were no longer safe.
  • In 1914 aeroplanes were very unreliable and highly dangerous and were mainly used for observation.

Soon the ‘dogfight’ had developed, at first using pistols and rifles but, in April 1915, the planes were successfully fitted with machine guns.

  • Soon the ‘dogfight’ had developed, at first using pistols and rifles but, in April 1915, the planes were successfully fitted with machine guns.
  • The Germans developed the Fokker fighter plane with a synchronised machine-gun mounted in front of the pilot firing between the rotating propeller blades.
  • By 1918 the primitive planes had given way to sleek fighters such as the Sopwith Camel and the Fokker Triplane.

The standard German bomber was the Gotha. Between December 1914 and June 1917 there were 57 German aeroplane raids on Britain, mostly on London. 5000 people were killed or wounded by German bombs.

  • The standard German bomber was the Gotha. Between December 1914 and June 1917 there were 57 German aeroplane raids on Britain, mostly on London. 5000 people were killed or wounded by German bombs.
  • During the Second World War, air power now became essential to army and naval operations. The Polish airforce was destroyed on the ground in 1939.

The Battle of Britain prevented a German invasion of Britain. Fighter Command, with Spitfires and Hurricanes and supported by radar, was able to fight off the Luftwaffe.

  • The Battle of Britain prevented a German invasion of Britain. Fighter Command, with Spitfires and Hurricanes and supported by radar, was able to fight off the Luftwaffe.
  • Britain’s investment in radar in the 1930s meant that RAF planes were not caught on the ground as the Luftwaffe approached.
  • From 1940 to 1941 the Luftwaffe attempted to blitz Britain into submission by bombing major British cities.

Berlin and other major German cities were bombed regularly from 1943 to 1945 using high explosive and incendiary bombs which caused fires to rage uncontrollably.

  • Berlin and other major German cities were bombed regularly from 1943 to 1945 using high explosive and incendiary bombs which caused fires to rage uncontrollably.
  • German war production was disrupted but Germany did not surrender. The Allied armies advancing in to Germany forced the final surrender.
  • In 1944 Hitler launched secret weapons. The V1 ‘flying bomb’ was jet-powered and filled with a tonne of high explosives. It fell to the ground when the engine cut out.

In 1944 the world’s first jet aircraft, the British Gloster Meteor, was created.

  • In 1944 the world’s first jet aircraft, the British Gloster Meteor, was created.
  • During the Vietnam War was the USA launched Operation Rolling Thunder. US air power could not defeat the Communists – it could only slow them down.
  • The USA also used Agent Orange, a highly toxic ‘weedkiller’ and Napalm.

The development of atomic and nuclear weapons

  • The development of atomic and nuclear weapons
  • On 6 August, a B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.
  • In 1949 the USSR detonated its first atomic bomb. Three years later, the USA detonated the first hydrogen bomb.

By the end of the 1950s both sides had developed H-bombs small enough to be dropped from a bomber and ICBMs

  • By the end of the 1950s both sides had developed H-bombs small enough to be dropped from a bomber and ICBMs
  • In 1957 the USSR launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit around the earth. This technology could be applied to missiles with nuclear warheads.
  • Their development acted as a deterrent. This was known as situation MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction

The Cuban Missile Crisis

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • USA spy planes found photographic evidence of Soviet missile sites on Cuba.
  • Kennedy, the US President, blockaded the Caribbean island and demanded the removal of the missiles.
  • Khruschev backed down and eventually agreed to remove the missiles. War had been averted.

Détente – an easing of strained relations especially between states

  • Détente – an easing of strained relations especially between states
  • 1963 Nick Hardcastle born
  • 1963: The Test Ban Treaty
  • 1968: The Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • 1972: SALT 1 – Strategic arms limitation treaty 1
  • 1977: the Soviet Union began replacing out-of-date missiles in Eastern Europe with new SS-20 nuclear missiles.
  • 1979: SALT 2

President Carter allowed the US military to develop Cruise Missile

  • President Carter allowed the US military to develop Cruise Missile
  • By 1979 the USA had stationed Pershing missiles in western Europe as an answer to the SS-20s
  • In 1982 President Reagan gave the go-ahead for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars)
  • The collapse of the Soviet Empire at the end of the 1980s brought an end to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

Warfare at the end of the twentieth century

  • Warfare at the end of the twentieth century
  • By the end of the twentieth century there were two forms of warfare – nuclear and conventional
  • The destructive power of nuclear weapons still acted as a deterrent
  • Countries, instead, fought with increasingly high tech conventional weapons.

In the First Gulf War, 1991, the Allies, mainly the USA and the UK, made a series of air attacks on Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, to lower the morale of the Iraqi citizens.

  • In the First Gulf War, 1991, the Allies, mainly the USA and the UK, made a series of air attacks on Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, to lower the morale of the Iraqi citizens.
  • The second phase, the attack on the Iraqi army itself, drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and confirmed the continued importance of land forces in major conflicts.

Warfare at the end of the twentieth century

  • Warfare at the end of the twentieth century
  • By the end of the twentieth century there were two forms of warfare – nuclear and conventional
  • The destructive power of nuclear weapons still acted as a deterrent
  • Countries, instead, fought with increasingly high tech conventional weapons.


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