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How much of our WWII history is really just propaganda and myth?

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by KodiakBeer, Feb 10, 2013.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    It's an old adage that the victors write the history, but in many ways WWII (and later wars) were being rewritten as they happened. War correspondents wrote often self-serving stories from military commanders that became iconic as they were repeated around the world. Governments weren't above using the smallest victory as propaganda to "keep up morale." Today, the repetition of these stories have become truth simply because they have been repeated so often.

    I think it's worth examining some of this created history and I'll start with the Battle of Britain. Did those brave Spitfire pilots really stop Operation Sea Lion, or was that ad hoc plan a loser from the start? Hitler had no control of the sea and therefore no way to successfully launch an invasion or supply any troops if he managed to get them across, control of the air or not. I'd suggest there was a little group called the Royal Navy that predetermined the outcome. That isn't meant to take anything away from those brave pilots, but wasn't that history really created by Churchill's "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" speech?

    Or am I wrong? I suspect a bunch of Generals in Berlin were rolling their eyes at the plan from the beginning, but again... perhaps I'm wrong...

    What other "history" do we take for granted?
     
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  2. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    I think you're correct on Sealion. I've argued many times in threads here, that address that subject, that it was unfeasible. Could not be pulled off and if by some massive stroke of luck German troops were landed on the British Isles, they'd have quickly been mopped up and killed or captured. So in this particular case I would agree.
     
  3. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    We have Myth threads.
     
  4. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Yes, but some of them are in the history forums! I see myths repeated as gospel in any long thread. What I'd like to see is a thread where a general consensus could be reached on some of the more blatant myths. I brought up the BoB because it's (I think) one that everyone can agree on. There's an element of truth there (the gallant pilots), but the history or at least "popular history" has been altered by Hollywood and wartime propaganda into something it isn't.
     
  5. von_noobie

    von_noobie Member

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    One myth I often come across from those that know little of WWII is that the French and Italian troop's where coward's and bad fighter's which is utterly wrong.
     
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  6. Fury 1991

    Fury 1991 New Member

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    In general the U.S. has always exaggerated its role in Europe. The Soviet effort downplayed. Most Americans do not know squat about the war these days. They just think the USA primarily won the war.
     
  7. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    A little harsh there cbiwv. We, as our other partners, take a fair bit of pride in our efforts, and too be fair we did do a considerable amount during and after the war.

    We supplied not only our own needs but much of that of our Allies. Churchill commented on US aid that it allowed a nation of 50 million people to fight as one of 60 million. Nearly all of the Free French army was equipped from US arsenals. We filled the gaps in Soviet production, trucks, tires, radio's, etc that allowed them to take the fight to the Invader.

    We were equals to our British Allies in the fight to push German armies back to the Reich.

    It was the US who broke the back of the Imperial Japanese Navy and brought their industry to a catatonic state, and of course the Atomic bomb eliminated the need to effect a costly invasion of the Home Islands.

    Once victory was achieved, we did not turn our back upon Europe, but sent billions of dollars to rebuild any nation who asked for it. Including our former enemies and those nations that chose not to oppose Hitler. Can you name any nation in history that did this?

    I take nothing away from the British, they held the line when on one else would.

    The Russian's bled the German Army white and paid a tremendous price doing it.

    Still, I respectfully submit that there is some justifiable pride in our "Good War".

     
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  8. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    Just touching on the 'Sealion' thing for a second, the time to mount a sucessfull operation of any invasion of the British Isles was immediately after Dunkirk.

    There was only one fully equipped division in england at the time, (Monty's 'Ironsides' div, part of the 'Mobile Force' I believe), while the rest of the BEF left much of its gear and all it's heavy equipment behind in France.

    Moving quickly, Kurt Student offered a plan for Sealion that involved a parachute drop somewhere between Folkestone and Brighton. Capture iof an airfield would allow reinforcements to be floqn in at great haste.

    The essentials of this plan were worked out quite quickly, and the lack of opposition at the time might have meant another quick victory that could have been enlarged. With German air assets at the time making intervention by the Royal Navy problematic and dangerous, this short period was, in fact, the only chance that Germany had of pullling off a coup de main.

    As anti-invasion defenses began to take shape, and the re=equipment of service personell took hold, this window of opportunity vanished, but it was still there.

    As always, poor intelligence work by Germany forfieted another 'go' at defeating Britain wholesale, with occupation of South-eastern England looking less and less likely as the summer of 1940 dragged into autumn and winter, with the weather closing the window forever.
     
  9. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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    This is dangerously close to a "What If.....?"
     
  10. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    Hard to see how the Russians could have done it without help, and hard to see how we could have fought the same without Soviet help. The two powers complemented eachother in their endevours.

    Britain was well set up to wage 'Total War', and did so virtually from the opening shots of the war. The period of the Phoney War cost the Germans much time. They had a marked superiority in their armed services that dissappeared gradually. The many months of inactivity came back to bite hard in 1941.

    What would the soviet Union have done without the over 450,000 trucks supplied....or the 63,000 jeeps....or the strategic metals given to them at cost price? Or the financial credit made available to them at record low interest rates, propping up their economy? Not to mention the many demi-tons of food and other packaged goods that let the Russians concentrate their production facilties on turning out the big stuff? The large procurement of British tanks and the early american designs filled a much needed gap between December 1941 and up until the time that Soviet industry could shake off the effects of gigantic relocation programmes.

    The Allies turned in a masterly team effort. The Axis squabbled with one another over allocation of scarce resources, or in the case of the Japanese, made no effort to come up with a plan for prosecution of both wars that would compliment one another, rather than attempting to win their particular theater of the war in osolation from their allies.
     
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  11. von_noobie

    von_noobie Member

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    Quite simply no single Allied nation could have gone it alone, We all needed each other and I think that is something we can all agree on. Without US lend lease the Russians army would not have been mobile as it was in the war, The UK would have run out of supplies as would many others but without Russian armies destroying the vast majority of the Axis fighting force then the chance of the Allies beating Germany when they did would not have been there, Just like with out British merchant ships working along Australian destroyers to supply the Tobruk garrison, With out those merchant ships there would not have been the supplies to hold out.

    I honestly dont think we could find a single country that though in WWII that could not be credited with out helping in some way big or small or showing great leadership and valor in battle.
     
  12. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Possibly the biggest mith is axis material superiority in the early stages, they Germans and Japanese were at a material disadvantage during most of the early victories, they won trough risk taking, better training and aggressiveness.
    Whenever the fighting bogged down to attritional warfare the greater allied numbers prevailed. There are exceptions to this pattern but it usually holds true.
    Another mith is "total war", the Germans were not looking for a fight west and had limited objectives there, didn't go to full war footing until after 1941 and were basically opportunistic from a strategic planning perspective. The Japanese never intended a fight to the death. The "escalation" was a lot more on the allied side that is generally accepted.
     
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  13. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    I think CB refers to the general population at large, and not ww2 forum members..and on this I would agree with him totally
     
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  14. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    The BOB....YES..Royal Navy would have had a field day...the nightly bomber raids of French ports did more than folk realise outside this forum that is...Anyone thinking Germans would not be met by total murderous force only needs to travel the roads and bridges of the tank trap towns even as far in as the Midlands and look at the roads and bridges and the spigot mortar leftovers, the gun emplacements and fire traps on roads...the auxilleries...it would never be over till it was over..But the flyers in 10 and 11 gps and 12 gp and others up north..we should not forget the need for a morale boost to the people..this after all is what total war is now..the people are part of it...their morale in the fields, the factories,,,they need to see a fight back at this time..need to know there is hope..we understimate the value of a civilian morale when without that civilian morale the country would quite simply give way...And the morale of others...no one can tell me that the German invasion or lack of it did not give hope to other nations under the jackboot..It meant it was not over...I'm not goggle eyed where the BOB sits in strategic victory of a few..there were actually many...the post office wire guys for a start..but the stopping of Germans by whatever means was worth Churchills words. And praise. And it cannot be ignored...on a fight over our islands..the German Air force were beaten wholly, decicively and effectively by the RAF. Invasion threat was real enough to the British just ask the vets on ww2 talk and my mum and all Brits at that time...they had no luxury of thinking this might just be a bluff..and even so...we are ready..if He could come he would...he didn't. He couldn't and it was not just because he was a little busy elsewhere...If he could have come he most certainly would.

    My own myth is the 50 destroyers need..they were not needed..the act of lending them was needed. And also the myth that the RN would sail for USA in event of disaster at home...Why on earth would they..As churchill warned...another regime would be in charge..why would we want to send our navy to FDR...If as we fell America had sat and watched.
     
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  15. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    With respect, are the British or Russian people any different?
     
  16. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    With respect generally no. But most British youngsters think America won ww2 now...And that Because of the American voice being the largest and most vocal. Its something that British education has to solve...small starts are in process now..But its sad that my own country when ww2 is raised generally looks to an American explanation. Thats our fault, but your voice rings to our youth as much as to your own.

    I have enough of my own experience with Americans off this forum to stand by my view that most of those I have been in contact with thru work, in and out of forces, as I worked for an American worldwide finance institution, including a very high ranked economist who I personally did IT for thinking and espousing how Amercas sacrifice and bravery in ww2 save Europe..And I'm completely fed up with the if it was not for us you would be speaking German routine that I have come across many times. I stand by my words.

    A quick search of google in any variation of the words did America win ww2 etc will blind us.
     
  17. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Allow me to re-phrase, Is the current American attitude very much different about its place in the world than that of a Briton of Queen Victoria's time till at least the end of WW I?
     
  18. Fury 1991

    Fury 1991 New Member

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    The Russians have not forgotten. They have many memorials and victory parades to remind them.
     
  19. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    I've visited a lot of the Allied countries and they're all proud of their contribution to victory, no matter how, ahem, small that contribution was. For example, did you know that Filipino guerrillas were absolutely vital to the successful invasion by MacArthur?
     
  20. Mahross

    Mahross Ace

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    There are numerous myths extent in the historiography of the Second World War and many of them are still perpetuated in popular accounts today. The main culprits for forming them tend to come from the memoirs of the generals and politicians. In Britain our historiography is framed in a Churchillian mould. Churchill's The Second World War has had an untold impact on subsequent accounts of the war. Tacit support from the Cabinet Office who wished to ensure that an acceptable 'official' version of the war come out before the Official Histories themselves was an important factor. You only need to read David Reynolds magisterial book, In Command of History to see what Churchill included, excluded and why. Often it was down to the simple that that he was either not involved or not interested. However, his biggest omission was his playing down, and on occasion denigration, of the role of the Chiefs of Staff committee. This led Alanbrooke to allow the publication of elements of his diary in Bryant's two volume biography of him. Of course, while Churchill's account is probably the most important, he was not the only guilty party in this myth building exercise. Montgomery's memoirs are extent with oversimplification and the twisting of facts over his skills as a general. This is part of the reason why when Barnett's The Desert Generals appeared in the 60s it was denigrated by several reviewers who wished to preserve Montgomery's account. It is often a case that the major participants have a vested interest in maintaining prestige concerning their roles in the war. This is then compounded by problems related to access to official records from which an objectives analysis can be made. In Britain we now operate the 30 Years Rule that means information is declassified thirty year after their date of closure, however, this was only introduced in 1967. Prior to that it was fifty years, though through Freedom of Information it has been known for files to be declassified earlier. However, some information was held onto by the historical branches within the MoD. This access to records created a methodological problem for historians who then tended to rely on personal accounts that led to a perpetuation of myths that are only now being put right by major scholarly accounts.

    Of course there are other reasons why myths are created an perpetuated. Mention has been made of the Soviet part in the war. Until Ericsson started writing in the 70s, our perception of Soviet military performance in the Second World War was of the stumbling bear. However, this served a political purpose during the Cold War. It was much better to suggest that the Soviet military was unsophisticated and therefore would be unable to cope with the Western military. Of much of this was designed to cover up the deficiencies of NATO doctrine and warfighting ability. Conversely, Soviet historiography of the Second World War was also skewed by political dogma and covered in Marxist rhetoric. There works only started in 1941 and ignored the first two years of the war, and of course washed over the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Even after the denunciation of Stalin in 1956 the Soviet's were reticent about owning up to this piece of their history. Even today our understanding of the sophistication of the Soviet military is still relative underdeveloped because of access to archives.

    As to Operation SEALION it is important not to ignore Hitler's personality. We know that he ignored his generals advice on many occasions. If he could have launched SEALION he would have done. It is that simple. Anthony Cumming's published an interesting book based on his PhD thesis called, The Royal Navy and the Battle of Britain You can read my review of it here - Book Review – The Royal Navy and the Battle of Britain | The Second World War Military Operations Research Group). While it is an interesting and important book it fails because there is too much polemic in it. He tries to hard to denigrate the RAF but ignore the importance of air superiority and argues that the Royal Navy would have destroyed any invasion attempt. While this may be true he ignore the long-term strategic implications of such an act i.e. the Home Fleet would have been decimated if the Luftwaffe had gained air superiority; read Crete but on a larger scale. However, the implication of Cumming's work is that Hitler would eventually turn east and give Britain breathing space. This is poor analysis based on causality rather than contingency. Here Cumming's falls into the trap of assuming certain issues of which he is already aware concerning the established course of the war. Cumming's is an example poor academic history because it is clouded in bias and an attempt to 'correct' the historiography of the Battle of Britain. He is right to stress the deterrent nature of the Royal Navy but not at the expense of the RAF. Even the German's were aware of the importance of air superiority in combined operations. This is largely why the Kriegsmarine and Wehrmacht were pleased by the shift to bombing British cities. Thus, the RAF's victory is much more important than Cumming's realizes. Thus, this attempt to right a perceived myth illustrates the problems of bias in historical analysis. Yes, there are myths about the Battle of Britain, many developed by the RAF's PR machine, but the essential truth is that any victory without the RAF would have been costly and in the long-term potentially fatal to Britain.

    Ross
     
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