How much time would it take to mobilize an army during WW2?

How much time would it take to mobilize an army during WW2?


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How long would it take to mobilize the armed forces of a Western country during the 20th century? Specifically, during and around WW2. I'm also looking for the number of troops as-well.


I am assuming that your phrasing refers to the general mobilization of the armed forces of a major nation, typically comprising several armies, air forces and fleets.

In World War One all the great nations of Europe had a two week timetable for general mobilization, with the exception of Russia (six weeks) and Great Britain (6 months). Russia required longer because of both greater distances and a much "thinner" rail network. Great Britain required 6 months because much of its manpower would be from overseas (India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). These Dominion armies would initially mobilize locally, then be transported first to Great Britain and then to France. Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August is a great resource for this period.

Note that the ability to mobilize an armed force eight times as large as one's standing army in just two weeks requires decades of preparation and a specified permanent infrastructure:

  1. Mandatory military service of 2 years from 18-20;
  2. Followed by 8 years of mandatory Reserve service for 4 weeks / year;
  3. Followed by another 10 years of mandatory Landwehr service of 2 weeks / year.
  4. A regular standing army ~12% as big as the final desired army
  5. A country no bigger than 1914 Germany in size, with a very dense rail network and extremely detailed mobilization plans.
  6. A Professional General Staff

Note also that your mobilized units can only pop-up at rail terminuses with sufficient rail capacity to handle the arriving men and equipment, and sufficient open land for their bivouac. The available land around Aachen in 1914 was only 1/3 that required for the destined troops, requiring an invasion of neighbouring Belgium on Day 5 rather than Day 15. This eventuality was unknown to everyone except German mobilization planners.


World War Two is more complicated. Looking at France for example, it was much less prepared than 25 years earlier. Although general mobilization was achieved in "days" (ie perhaps a bit faster than in 1914) it was an utter mess.

  • No provision had been made to excuse men working in essential industries such as ammunition production. Over the next few months these men had to be identified, removed from their units, and returned home. In the meantime much of the army was bereft of vital supplies and equipment.

  • Many of the the reserve units, comprised of older men, had received much less training than in 1914. This training now had to be planned and executed on an emergency basis. Although this was mostly completed by May 1940, it meant that the French armed forces, while ostensibly "mobilized" by late September 1939, were nowhere near combat ready until spring 1940.

Ironically, and contrary to expectation, through May and June 1940 the Class B reserve units of men in their forties and late thirties significantly out-performed the Class A reserve units of men in their late twenties and early thirties. This is thought to be due to the steadying presence of WW1 veterans in the former.

In contrast, for the U.S. mobilization in World War Two took 2.5 years; essentially from Dec. 1941 until June 1944. Having only a tiny regular army and no meaningful reserve in late 1941, the entire operation of raising and training over 11 million men (thank you Jon Custer) had to be constructed from scratch. The naval vessels that its sailors would man against Japan had, for the most part, not even had their keels laid in Dec. 1941.

The only nation that mobilized a steady-state of about 1 million men under arms, I believe, is Canada. Of these the breakdown by service is roughly:

  • Army: 55,000 in 1939 to ~730,000 by spring 1944
  • Air Force: 3,000 in 1939 to ~260,000 by spring 1944
  • Navy: 3200 in 1939 to ~110,000 by spring 1944

This mobilization took nearly 5 years, from summer and fall 1939 to spring 1944.


Mobilization of the American Home Front

World War II officially began in Europe when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. By 1940 the war in Europe was in full swing, and the Allies, the nations fighting Germany and Italy, including Britain and France, needed U.S. support. At this time the United States was not involved in the war. However, it did agree to provide the Allies with weapons and other war materials. This agreement changed daily life in the United States as Americans began participating in a broad united effort to support the far-off military campaign. The biggest challenge involved industrial mobilization, the conversion of U.S. manufacturing from the production of civilian goods to the production of war materials. America had much to do to gear up for war production. It had to awaken from an economic lull brought on by the Great Depression. The Great Depression was the most severe economic crisis the United States ever experienced. It began in late 1929 and lasted throughout the 1930s. The Depression led to slowed business activity, high unemployment rates, and social unrest in many areas of the country.

To guide and coordinate the massive mobilization effort the U.S. government created numerous temporary federal agencies, including the War Resources Board, Office of Emergency Management, Office of Production Management, Supplies Priorities and Allocations Board, War Production Board, Office of Economic Stabilization, Defense Plant Corporation, and Office of War Mobilization. Under the guidance of these agencies, American businesses and workers brought about a giant increase in U.S. industrial productivity, and overall the mobilization effort created dramatic growth in large private corporations.


Crimes committed by the United States during WW2

When thinking about war crimes in World War II, the Holocaust, the Nazi Party, and the Nuremberg trials come to mind.

War crimes perpetrated by the Allies are something that most are not aware of. While it can be argued that the war crimes committed by the United States were not as heinous as those of Germany, they were still devastating.

Mass rape in Asia and Europe

One of the tragic tolls of war that is often glossed over is rape. This is an odious crime, and historians agree that American soldiers raped tens of thousands of women. These rapes occurred both during the war and in its immediate aftermath.

Precise estimates are impossible to obtain, but the book Taken By Force estimates approximately 11,000 women were raped in Germany between 1945 and 1946.

While fraternization with German women was forbidden, one American commander stated that copulation without conversation was not fraternization.

Germany was not the only country in which these atrocities occurred. The allied country of France also suffered from this war crime. Hundreds of French women reported being raped by American soldiers during the country’s liberation from German occupation.

U.S. 28th Infantry Division on the Champs Élysées in the “Victory Day” parade on 29 August 1944.

The attitude of American troops was no different in the Pacific. An estimate states that 10,000 women were raped on Okinawa alone. The rapes did not stop after the Japanese surrender, as 1,336 incidents were reported in the first ten days after the surrender in Kanagawa.

A young ethnic Chinese woman from one of the Imperial Japanese Army’s “comfort battalions” is interviewed by an Allied officer. North Korean nurses captured by South Korean and US soldiers. Captured North Korean women were sometimes raped by US soldiers.

Mutilation in the Pacific

After Pearl Harbor, the United States started military campaigns in the Pacific. The primary enemy was Japan and many soldiers on both sides perished. The war crimes committed by US soldiers during this campaign are clearly documented.

The worst was the mutilation of Japanese corpses to take trophies such as their skulls. The practice was widespread among the troops, and reached a point where the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet ordered directives against it in 1942 and 1944.

News of the Bataan Death March sparked outrage in the US, as shown by this propaganda poster

U.S. government propaganda poster from WWII featuring a Japanese soldier depicted as a rat

In Trophies of War, history professor James Weingartner states that mutilation was not uncommon. The Nevada Daily Mail ran a story in 1944 about Francis Walter presenting President Roosevelt with a letter opener made from a Japanese soldier’s arm.

Charles Lindbergh was once asked if he was carrying bones on his way home from the Pacific. The customs agent told him that the practice was so common that this had become a routine question.

The bombing of Dresden

In February 1945, British and American bombers started the Dresden bombing campaign, which lasted for three days and nights. While this was not the worst bombing mission of the war, 25,000 people were killed.

Dresden after the bombing raid.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-041-07 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Historians who believe the bombing of Dresden is a war crime point out that the target was civilians and done as a show of might to the Soviet Union.

A British Royal Air Force memo which was issued to the bombers appears to support this theory. The memo stated that the campaign would show the Russians what Bomber Command was capable of. The fact that industrial targets in the city were unscathed also lends credibility to this view.

Dresden, 1945, view from the city hall (Rathaus) over the destroyed city.Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎ CC BY-SA 3.0

There were two official inquiries by the United States into the bombing. Both found the action to be justified, but they are largely dismissed by scholars today. The reports are seen as a whitewashing of the bombing by one of the perpetrators.

Frauenkirche ruins with a figure of Martin Luther that survived the bombings.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60015-0002 / Giso Löwe / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Operation Teardrop

Operation Teardrop was the US answer to Adolf Hitler’s U-boats in the North Atlantic. The campaign went largely according to plan and international law. There is only one incident that went so far out of hand that it ended up being a war crime.

In 1945, U-546 sank the USS Frederick C. Davis, killing 126 of the crewmen. When the U-boat was then sunk by the USS Flaherty, 32 survivors were taken prisoner. All of the prisoners should have been sent to a prisoner of war camp, but 8 were pulled aside for interrogation.

A life raft carrying survivors from U-546 in the midst of a group of U.S. Navy destroyer escorts on April 24, 1945

The 8 prisoners were repeatedly beaten, subjected to exhaustive physical strain, and placed in solitary confinement. The torture continued for over two weeks until Germany surrendered. After the surrender, the prisoners were moved to Fort Hunt where they were again subjected to harsh treatment and conditions.

A survivor of the German submarine U-546 comes aboard USS Bogue

Concentration camp slaughter

While we understand in hindsight how brutal the Holocaust was, liberating Allied troops had to experience the literal aftermath of it. There is no way to understand the shock and horror they might have felt when confronted with concentration camps. The question is whether this excuses the war crimes they committed as a result.

When American soldiers liberated the Dachau concentration camp, they found thirty-nine railway boxcars filled with corpses. The surrender of the camp was quick and painless, but that gruesome discovery left the soldiers thirsty for vengeance. What happened next varies, depending on whose account you read.

Gates at the main entrance to Dachau concentration camp, 1945

According to commanding officers at the scene, 12 to 16 German prisoners were executed by machine gun. Approximately 30 more Germans were executed that day, according to Lt. Col. Felix Sparks. First Lt. Howard Buechner alleges that 520 Germans were killed, with 346 of them being a mass execution.

“No Mercy!”, by Arland B. Musser.Rather than taking them as POW’s, U.S. troops executed about 60 SS officers upon liberating Dachau.Photo: Tractatus CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Biscari massacre

When the Allies invaded Sicily, they found their first triumph in their campaign to take Europe back. The problem came just 4 days later with the largest massacre to be committed by American soldiers. The killings have become known as the Biscari massacre, named for the airfield the Americans were trying to capture.

On July 14, 1943, American troops slaughtered 73 prisoners of war in 2 incidents. The first incident occurred under the command of Sergeant Horace West. His men stormed the airfield and took more than 40 prisoners. A few were sent for questioning while the others were lined up and executed via machine gun.

Later that day, Captain John Compton and his men took 36 prisoners. The American interpreter asked the prisoners if they had been shooting, since many were dressed in civilian clothing. He received no answer. However, Compton’s lieutenant told him that they had. This prompted Compton to give the order to shoot the prisoners.


Long Wars and Industrial Mobilization: It Won’t Be World War II Again

After a generation of absence, interest in long wars against peer adversaries has returned and with it, an interest in mobilization. Many observers — from Eliot Cohen to senior members of the Joint Staff to David Barno and Nora Bensahel — have warned about it. Long wars require industrial mobilization, and when strategists and planners think of these things, they think of World War II and all that came with it: conversion of civilian industry to military use, mass production, a long buildup of forces, and, finally, well-equipped, massive armies that overwhelm opponents.

But a long war today would be totally different. In fact, after about nine months of intense peer conflict, attrition would grind the U.S. armed forces down to something resembling the military of a regional power. The Army, for example, would be armed primarily with infantry weapons with heavy firepower coming from gun trucks and a trickle of modern equipment acquired from struggling domestic production and whatever logisticians could scrounge up on the world market. This state of affairs arises because the U.S. government has not thought seriously about industrial mobilization. It is far easier to bask in warm memories of World War II than to face the harsh choices that mobilization preparation entails.

Here’s the basic problem: Major wars against peer competitors burn up weapons and munitions at a ferocious rate far beyond what the highly consolidated and fragile U.S. defense industry can produce. America’s defense industrial base is designed for peacetime efficiency, not mass wartime production, because maintaining unused capacity for mobilization is expensive. Congress and the Pentagon believe weapons are expensive enough without paying for something that may never be needed.

Let’s look at tanks as an example, but the same dynamic applies to aircraft, ships, and munitions (and people, for that matter, but that’s another article in itself). The U.S. Army has 15 armored brigade combat teams in the regular force and reserve component, with a total of about 1300 tanks in them (90 per brigade). Behind these “operational” tanks are about another thousand in training units, maintenance, and R&D . And there are hundreds more in the “boneyard” in various stages of decay.

Forecasting attrition in peer conflicts is hard because such conflicts are — fortunately — rare, but we can get glimpses. For example, in 1973 the Israelis lost 400 out of 1700 tanks, a rate of about 1.1 percent per day over the 20 days of increasingly lopsided combat. The Arab armies lost far more. The great 1943 tank battle of Kursk caused very high tank losses — the Germans lost 14 percent per day over two weeks of combat, or 110 percent of their initial force — but that was a short engagement of unusual intensity. In World War II, the average U.S. infantry battalion on the front line lost 2.6 percent of its personnel per day, even without major fighting. It is therefore reasonable to assume that an intense peer conflict would destroy about 1 percent of the tank force every day. That includes losses from all sources — combat, abandonment during retreat, sunk en route to theater, and accidents.

With all 15 armored brigades engaged, the armored force would lose 13 tanks per day on average or 390 per month. By pulling in replacements from the tanks in maintenance and the training base, the armored brigade combat teams could stay at full strength for about two months. After that, the force would decline steadily: to 74 percent in month four (960 tanks), 55 percent in month five (715 tanks), 41 percent in month six (533 tanks), and so on. By month 10, the force would be down to 158 tanks — two armored brigades’ worth.

Won’t industrial mobilization provide replacements? Yes, but not enough. The United States has only built (actually, upgraded from older versions) 20 to 60 tanks a year in recent years, with perhaps an equal number from foreign sales. Eventually, according to the Army’s budget documents, production could surge to 28 per month. In other words, when fully mobilized, tank production would replace about two days of losses every month. Including these replacements in the calculation above adds a month to the timeline. With more time and money, industry (General Dynamics in this case) could expand production further, but it has a long way to go.

So what to do? First, the United States would need to haul equipment out of the “boneyard,” get it running, and send it to the front. For tanks, that means using all the old M-1A1s, the un-digitized version without the improved fire control, upgraded armor, and integrated computers of the current M-1A2SEP version. Eventually the original M-1s from the early 1980s with the smaller 105mm cannon, instead of the current 120mm cannon, would be needed. There would not be time or capacity to upgrade to the most current version. Government and contractor facilities will be overwhelmed repairing battle damage and building new tanks. Using such old equipment runs contrary to 50 years of practice where the U.S. military has fought with only the most modern equipment. The flip side, however, is that adversaries would be facing the same attrition dynamics and going through their own quantity versus quality crisis. In other words, if the conflict were in Europe, U.S. tanks would not be facing modern Russian tanks like T-90s but older tanks like T-80s or T-72s. So it would be an even fight.

Simultaneously, logisticians will need to go to the civilian economy and buy what can be adapted there. Adapted does not mean shifting civilian production to military-specification production, because that would take too long. In World War II, industrial mobilization took years, beginning with French and British war orders in 1938 but not producing the masses of equipment needed to go head-to-head with Germany and Japan until 1944. The words of Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, recalling the mobilization challenge of World War I, apply here:

Here is the history of munitions production: first year, very little second year, not much, but something third year, almost all you want fourth year, more than you need.

“Adaptation” in such a situation means taking what the civilian economy produces, painting it green, and sending it forward. Some “civilian-like” equipment might be produced relatively quickly. Production of MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected – essentially armored gun trucks), for example, surged within a year during the Iraq war. Adaptation also applies to the doctrine needed to fight such a force. So after six or eight months of combat, the Army’s main combat vehicle might be MRAP gun trucks, but that’s better than nothing.

Finally, logisticians will need to buy whatever they can from the world market, something the U.S. military has not done in a major way since World War I when the French equipped America’s poorly prepared expeditionary force. However, there are many precedents in other countries. When Great Britain retook the Falkland Islands in 1983, the United States provided munitions. When Iraq and Iran fought an eight-year death struggle from 1980 to 1988, both searched the world market aggressively to find equipment wherever they could. So when U.S. industry is unable to produce equipment in the numbers needed, the United States will need to do the same. Because the NATO allies may be engaged themselves, or building up their own armed forces, the United States would need to go to other countries. Brazil would be a good example, since it has a mature arms industry. Radical measures, like offering to buy the Egyptian and Moroccan tank forces, would be warranted. That sounds silly, but they have a lot of American tanks that could be incorporated quickly into the U.S. Army.

Of course, optimistic assumptions can make the problem go away. For example, multi-billion dollar peacetime investments in mobilization capacity would speed wartime production. However, the military services have never been willing to do that, being faced with many near-term budget demands and with mobilization capacity looking like inefficiency in an already inefficient acquisition system.

A long period of strategic warning, as happened in World War II, would also facilitate mobilization, but that is unlikely to happen in a future war. It’s hard to imagine events that would be so shocking to Americans that they would start a draft and totally mobilize industry, but that would not at the same time bring the United States into war.


Scandinavian countries during WW2

Post by Chaser » 06 Mar 2005, 02:40

Hi guys!
Wasn't sure where to put this question but here it goes:
I recently read a book about the Scandinavian countreys in WW2, now i have a question: Why the Nazi soldiers didn't occupy Sweden but occupy Norwey and Denmark?

Post by Sun Tsu » 06 Mar 2005, 14:19

Post by Qvist » 07 Mar 2005, 15:12

The basic German strategic attitude to Scandinavia was that it served German interests best if they remained neutral. This attitude was altered in the spring of 1940, largely as a result of feared allied actions to either draw the scandinavian countries into the war or gain physical control of Scandinavian territory. Several such schemes were discussed in connection with plans to send assistance to Finland during the winter war, something that could only be done through Norway and Sweden. Also, the Kriegsmarine saw clear advantages in bases along the Norwegian coast, and so pushed for invasion for their own reasons. Norway was invaded for these reasons, and Denmark was occupied because control of Danish territory was indispensable to secure early air cover over Southern Norway specifically and to secure the lines of communication across the sea more generally.

Within this scheme of things, there was no clear need to invade or occupy Sweden. There was no possible allied access to Sweden as long as the Germans controlled Norway and Denmark, and Sweden was a major supplier of iron ore to the German war effort, something which could only be disrupted by invasion. Also, the Swedish armed forces were strong enough to require a serious large scale operation to overcome, something for which the Germans did not have the means simultaneous with employing virtually the whole navy for a Norwegian operation that even overlapped in time with the major offensive on the continent. The Swedes provided additional reasons for being left in peace by allowing transit of German forces and supplies to Norway, even while the fighting lasted.

Post by Sun Tsu » 07 Mar 2005, 15:20

Post by Qvist » 07 Mar 2005, 15:45

No? I know they were weaker than during the later years of the war, but the Swedish armed forces were pretty sizeable were they not? At least, there would have been no question of just walking in and taking control in a morning as in Denmark, or of rolling up the whole country with a few infantry divisions, as in Norway. But I'd be happy to hear some more details about this, I am going on little more than general impressions.

Post by D. von Staberg » 07 Mar 2005, 16:30

Size isn't everythign you know The Swedish army consited of 5 infantry divisions and a couple of independent infantry regiemtns with supporting artillery, a cavalry brigade and two tank batalions. However all combat ready units were concentrated in the north due to the Winter war (3 divisions worth of troops) the remaining part sof the army were not mobilized and would have been partly unfit for combat due to equipment shortages and the lack of trained officers and men.

If the germans had had the troops to spare in the week startign with the 9th of April 1940 they could have sized large parts of southern and western sweden by coup de main. The largest infatry unit in Skane on the 10th was a Danish company which had managed to move into Sweden fully equiped.

The airforce and navy was not much better of, Swedens few twin engiend bombers actualy manged to get airborn and get within range of the Sund but their fighter escorts had been unable to take of due to bad weather.
The navy had no major vessels anywere enar the probable invasion areas which for the most part were unprotected by costal artillery.

Post by WalterS » 08 Mar 2005, 01:34

Post by Qvist » 08 Mar 2005, 09:45

Thanks for the info - it seems I had exaggerated notions of Swedish strength. I'll keep that in mind for the future.

Incidentally, Norway and Sweden were to an extent intertwined problems with regard to the Swedish ore, as much of it was shipped down the Norwegian coastal lanes after being railed to Narvik. So, control of Norway was also control of the Swedish ore, to a considerable extent.

Post by Chaser » 09 Mar 2005, 22:39

Post by Stephan » 13 Mar 2005, 11:43

Did read Göring helped Sweden not to be occupied. It is well known Göring was fond in Sweden with a beloved swedish wife, and saw himself as a friend of Sweden.

My main source in not a very good one, a science fiction writer, but he has the revived Göring as a major character and was probably doing good researche. He did goog researche on the other characters.

Re: Scandinavian countreys during WW2

Post by KalaVelka » 21 Mar 2005, 20:15

Chaser wrote: Why the Nazi soldiers didn't occupy Sweden but occupy Norwey and Denmark?

How many of the german soldiers were members of the NSDAP?

Post by John T » 29 Mar 2005, 23:49

Qvist wrote: No? I know they were weaker than during the later years of the war, but the Swedish armed forces were pretty sizeable were they not? At least, there would have been no question of just walking in and taking control in a morning as in Denmark, or of rolling up the whole country with a few infantry divisions, as in Norway. But I'd be happy to hear some more details about this, I am going on little more than general impressions.

In general I'd support quist's short version and WalterS addition.

Swedes like to belittle the Armed forces, it makes Swedens actions easier to explain.
Sweden where definitely stronger later during the war but comparing Sweden with Norway gives some proportions to Swedish weakness:

Sweden had more men under arms the 8:th of April than Norway managed to mobilize during the war.

-During 1936-1938 Sweden spent twice as much as Finland on military defence, and more than four times the Norwegian defence budget.

- Sweden had approx twice as much artillery ammo per gun as the Finns in September 1939. Except for AAA where it was seven times as much.

- the Swedish "peacetime reaming programe" in winter 1940 produced monthly, similar quantities of arty ammo as the complete Norwegian stock. The Norwegian stock of 6 to 9 cm ammo where 5% of the Swedes in April 1940.

- The quota of Swedish AT-guns to German Tanks employed in Norway was 5:1.

- A handfull of Swedish cities had more anti Aircraft guns each than the complete Norwegian inventory.

The weak Swedish Airforce, (I do not joke - it was weak relative to Luftwaffe) had 5 times the number of Gladiator fighters as Norwegian airforce and one third of the pilots had combat experience from the Winter War.

Swedish navy was locked into the Baltic but had a dozen modern subs, if you count the three interned Polish subs. And a surface fleet that had matched the German Navy up to the mid thirties.

This kind of comparisons are not easily accepted in Sweden since it might lead the reader to belive that Sweden had some options during WW2 and confilcts with "well known facts".
Note I do not say that Sweden could have stood alone against Nazi Germany.

Then I like to counter some of Daniels arguments:

The mobilized force where in the wrong part of the country, indeed but also out of reach from the Germans, no quick decapitattion of the main part of the Field army.

Norwegian administration where very centralized to the harbours, and most mobilization depots where within a days march from these. In Sweden, as a more rural than sea-going nation, where more evenly spread out over the territory. Not as simple to decapitate.

Note thet the Germans did not leave Oslo for the first three days, so with that time frame, a coup the main in southern Sweden would still leave most Swedish mobilization centres intact.

And you did not mention the local defence forces, they had aproximate the same training as the regular Norwegian army and consisted of more than 100 000 men.

BTW it was three tank companies in 1940, the two batalions where a mix of tank and Anit tanks companies.

In Short, Sweden did not have an offensive force but way more defensive power than the Norwegians.


Recollections of a Nurse during WW2

I was sixteen years old when war was declared and working as a clerk/typist in my hometown of Smethwick on the outskirts of the city of Birmingham. The situation was regarded as grave and since bombing raids were expected air raid precautions were commenced and ARP units established. These consisted of First Aid and Rescue Services based at Ambulance Stations which often consisted of commandeered commercial garages.

Being a junior member of the St. John's Ambulance Brigade, I decided that I would volunteer for duty at the nearest First Aid Post to my home and reported for duty three or four evenings a week. I was issued with a steel helmet, a navy blue drill overall and an arm-band printed with the words 'First Aid'.

The first months of the war were very quiet, and often referred to as the 'phoney war', but it was to be a very brief respite. This period was used to prepare us for any eventuality and was spent in practising and improving our skills. We worked in teams and each ambulance was manned by a driver, a rescue worker (these two duties were sometimes combined) and an ambulance attendant. The ambulances were well equipped to deal with any type of emergency.

The enemy attacks began in mid-1940 and I had my first experience of bombing raids and their consequences. At one time following the air raid alarm, all the ambulances were drawn up in the road in readiness. I was carrying a tray of tea to the waiting drivers and had just started to cross the road to them when a basket of incendiary bombs burst above. Everyone shouted at me to take cover but I was too stunned to drop the tray, and just stood there frozen to the ground! Fortunately for me there didn't appear to be one with my name on it! It was during one of these experiences that I first met and worked with my husband to be. He was in charge of a Rescue Team and had one of the most dangerous jobs. As the intensity of air raids increased we reported for duty on a regular basis and often worked throughout the night. It was a salutary experience and ultimately responsible for my decision to train as a nurse when the time came for me to report for a job of national importance at the age of 18 years.

Accepted for training

In 1941 I applied to a newly built hospital on the outskirts of Birmingham and was accepted for a four year training as a nurse. It was a voluntary hospital (or teaching hospital), adjacent to the University of Birmingham and its Medical School, and was rated at the time as the most modern hospital in the UK.

The National Health Service did not exist of course until 1948 and before that time there were two types of hospital. Voluntary hospitals were dependent on subscriptions, donations by companies and payment for treatment by private patients. Treatment and medical/nursing training was superior to that offered by the other type of hospitals known as infirmaries which were funded by the local authority and often built near a cemetery! Consequently there was an established fear of patients when admitted to an infirmary that it was a one-way trip to this place!

The late Queen Mother, who was then Queen Consort to HM King George VI, declared this new voluntary hospital open in early 1939, and graciously consented to give it her own name - it was known as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. All nurses were required to live in, and at no time were allowed to wear their uniform away from the hospital. Very strict rules were observed including that which forbade marriage during the period of training. A difficult decision for many a young girl whose fiancé was due for overseas combat! We were required to pay £20 for our uniform and textbooks, and the salary for our first year was £18. However we did not have to pay for board and lodging!

Our uniform was designed by Nornam Hartnell and broke away from the traditional striped dress and starched collars and cuffs. Our dresses were pale primrose colour for junior nurses, pale blue for seniors and green for sisters - all with soft, white collars and cuffs. We wore brown capes lined with light fawn and matching shoes and stockings. Starched wrap-around aprons were worn on duty and always removed when we left the wards. At no time were we allowed to wear our uniform off hospital premises. Strict hygiene was observed and cross-infection was virtually non-existent.

The medical profession was male-dominated at this time, and female medical students were noticeable by their absence. The nursing profession was all female and no training existed for male nurses until some time after the war. Hospital porters and orderlies were very few and generally were recruited from conscientious objectors. They gave good service, but junior student nurses were often called upon to carry out tasks usually designated to them. One of my first recollections of this was in my first year of training. I was instructed by the Ward Sister to shave the very hairy chest of a patient in preparation for an operation to remove his spleen. In the preliminary training school, we had been taught to use a cut-throat razor on a life-size model, but never in our wildest dreams did we think we would be called upon to put this into practice. The patient in question recoiled in horror on realising my intention, and quickly offered to do the job himself. Needless to say I was greatly relieved!

Life as a nurse

As air raids and military campaigns intensified, our nursing duties and experiences expanded. We received many air raid casualties from surrounding areas, including those from city hospitals. The centre of Birmingham was attacked relentlessly, and there were admissions of casualties which exceeded our capacity. At one particularly vicious bombardment we were forced to put casualties on stretchers in the corridors due to lack of beds. We could see the glow of fires burning in the city, and our own hospital was subjected to attack by incendiary bombs. Medical students took turns to man the roof-tops of the hospital in fire-watching duties, having been trained to deal with threatening incendiary bombs. It eventually became necessary to evacuate hospital patients from some of the wards in order to make room for air raid victims and much later for military personnel from various campaigns. Emergency units were set up in small cottage hospitals and convalescent homes throughout the surrounding area to accommodate the evacuated patients. Some of the injuries sustained by air raid victims were devastating and made an everlasting impression on the young student nurses involved in their treatment. The memory of some tragic cases remain with me to this day.

However there were lighter moments. During my first year I spent time nursing army personnel who were ill or had been injured during training exercises. One young lieutenant had received a bullet wound in his leg whilst on such an exercise in Ireland. He was admitted at mid-week, two days after rations of sugar had been issued to all patients. I knew that there was a tin of glucose in the ward store cupboard, and offered to get some for him to put on his porridge. Imagine the hilarity in the ward when it proved to be salt and not glucose. I was mortified and decided that I would beg a boiled egg from the diet kitchen to compensate. This would be a great treat and the other officers in the ward were very envious, but it wasn't to be my day! As the young man cracked his egg, it exploded and a horrible green mess appeared. Everyone was of the opinion that it was a deliberate joke carried out by me, but there was great hilarity and the young man forgave me.

Later that week we were informed that there was to be an inspection of the military patients by a Brigadier General. Officer patients were in small wards, but the ranks were all nursed in one large ward. As the top brass made his tour of this ward, a Sergeant Major who was one of the patients, called everyone to attention. I've never seen anything so funny as all patients lying stiffly to attention in their hospital bed!

Surgical and theatre nursing

At the end of my first year I was despatched to work as a junior theatre nurse. The theatre block consisted of five large well-designed theatre suites with state of the art equipment, plus two smaller units for minor surgery. It was tough working under a Theatre Sister who demanded nothing but perfection in our duties, and tolerated fools badly. Fortunately I was well suited to the job and luckily made few mistakes. I loved working as part of a team of dedicated people. This proved to be the turning point of my nursing career as I naturally gravitated towards surgical nursing and in particular theatre work. During the war due to a variety of pressures there was difficulty in arranging a structured form of nurse training, and consequently each student was placed according to their particular interest and ability.

My next theatre assignment was in 1942. Morale throughout the country had been at its lowest ebb during 1941 and also early 1942 with disastrous news from the North African campaign. However when 'Monty' was appointed commander of the 8th Army and arrived in the desert, the North African campaign took a new turn. In early October there was a great Allied victory with Rommel's troops being routed, and Tobruk taken. This news was a great boost to the country, but the hospital was told to prepare to receive many casualties. It was feared that there would be many cases of gangrene due to the slow and tedious journey required to bring the injured back to England.

When the convoys started to arrive I was on duty in one of the theatres. Three theatres, including the one in which I was working, were designated to deal with the casualties. Because of the large number, it was decided to have two operating tables working concurrently in each of the theatres in order that treatment could be carried out as speedily as possible. Most were suffering from severe and complicated leg wounds, which had been treated by casualty clearing stations at the front. The treatment comprised immobilisation of the limb in what was then called a Thomas Splint (usually used in treatment of fractured thighs). A very thick plaster of Paris cast was applied over this to the depth of 4 - 5 inches. On admission to the theatre, medical students armed with shears removed the plaster cast, while the surgical team scrubbed in readiness to operate.

The discarded plaster splints and dressings were most offensive and gave off a smell which none of us working at the time will ever forget! However they proved to be the salvation of many young men and saved limbs which would surely have required amputation. There was not one case of gangrene and the particular device came to be called the 'Tobruk Splint'. Whilst operating on the first patient at one table, another patient on the second table was being prepared. On completion of the operation the medical students exchanged places with us to put on a fresh plaster cast. The surgical team then scrubbed and started work on the second patient…. and so on throughout the night. We worked non-stop, as did the other theatres - from 4pm until 8am the next morning. We had the enormous satisfaction of knowing that no amputations had been necessary… but the theatre was a sorry mess. The back lobby was full of discarded and stinking plaster casts and there was blood and plaster on the swing doors of the theatre from the hands of the medical students and porters. In spite of this, everyone went off-duty pleased with their night's work and not a twinge of conscience at leaving such chaos to be restored by the on-coming staff!

Theatre became my own special field and I became most interested in the revolutionary plastic surgery being carried out at this time. I was also privileged to work with some of the surgeons who pioneered this work. There was no such thing as nylon sutures of course, and my fine red hair was often called into use. After being sterilised it was used to repair median nerves which had been damaged in forearm injuries caused by shrapnel. It evidently had the advantage of being both fine and strong! We carried out different types of skin grafts, the results of which were painstakingly slow. Seldom did the theatre staff see the end results of our efforts, but many badly burned pilots were supported psychologically by the young nurses who cared for them post-operatively.

I often think of one young man who'd suffered particularly severe injuries. I was called upon to assist three surgeons who had decided to work in unison on this soldier. A Plastic Surgeon and a Facio-Maxillary Surgeon worked together to replace a shattered lower jaw with a piece of bone chiselled from his hip by an Orthopaedic Surgeon. A tube of flesh from his abdomen had been prepared earlier by the Plastic Surgeon, and attached to his wrist. This was called a Pedicle graft and would be used to form a chin. Once the bone had been removed from the hip in readiness for use, the Orthopaedic Surgeon prepared to work on his shattered lower leg. I was kept busy supplying all three surgeons with the correct 'tools of their trade', moving from top to middle to bottom of the table and handing the necessary instruments, sutures etc. My theatre team at this time consisted of one nurse and one orderly! All instruments were selected and sterilised before an operation by the theatre staff since there was no such thing as a Central Sterilising Department as now. I often wonder at the outcome of this surgery on the poor young man.

In May 1944 we had an inkling that something was in the air. We'd been told that we were to remain within call of the hospital if we were on holiday or off duty. When the Second Front did take place on 6th June, wards were emptied in readiness for the expected large number of casualties. The first convoys arrived 9th/10th June and the hospital continued to receive the wounded in the last months of 1944 and early weeks of 1945.

As news of the arrival of convoys filtered through to the public, many were at the railway station to cheer the boys as they were being loaded into ambulances. Precious chocolate and cigarettes were offered to them, and unknowingly to a few German prisoners of war. They were mostly young boys of 15 and 16 years of age, and were convinced that these people were trying to poison them! One ward was entirely given over to the prisoners of war and guarded by the Military Police. Nurses with some knowledge of the German language were drafted to work on this ward. When VE Day was declared on 8th May 1945, there was great relief throughout the hospital and much jubilation! I later joined my husband in Portsmouth after our marriage in June 1945 and continued my work as a Theatre Sister for many years to come.

See also A Romance that nearly went with a BANG! by my husband Ron Goodhand.

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What if the French forces entrenched themselves at the Belgian border during WW2

Upon hearing that Belgium was being invaded by German forces, French forces quickly entrench themselves along the border.

I would imagine the blitz would continue with minimal slowing, as the spearhead tactics would easily crush an entrenched line.

Historically, French efforts in Belgium were effective to a degree. What caused the collapse of organized defense was the Germans successful breakthrough at Sedan, an area considered pretty difficult to impassible for an army. Had the French entrenched themselves, its still possible for the Germans to break through there as the length of the French line would necessitate spreading out forces and their focus would be on parts of the French-Belgium border were it was considered much much easier for an army to advance through. Its just a repeat of the attempt to create a line in Belgium with the same issues of lack of deep defense and poor coordination (the French lack of radios in the their tanks vs the German's use of them is cited as one factor for their eventual loss despite having many of the better vehicles). The other drawback is the French gives up on any offensive and just becomes pinned by the German forces that did sweep through Belgium rather than, historically, almost pinning the Germans in Belgium (until that break through in Sedan created panic in the rear and rout at the front line).

They tried. French war planning involved the maginot line funnelling an advance through belgium where under the terms of the Franco-Belgian alliance, the French army would be waiting at pre-prepared positions, of comparable integrity to the Maginot line. But when France did nothing in response to Germany remilitarizing the Rhineland, Belgium returned to their traditional position of Neutrality. In one fell swoop, French military planning of the past 10 years was in tatters. In 1940 the British and French armies were scuppered because they advanced quickly into Belgium to avoid a pitched battle on French soil, so never dug in properly and were outflanked by the German Panzers advancing through the Ardennes. The maddening thing was that these panzers were photographed by allied photographic reconnaisance planes on many occasion but they were dismissed by the Allied High Command.

They attempted to, but without prepared defenses, they really couldn't stand up to modern equipment and tactics.

Any manipulation of the French battle plan for the Western front in 39-40 is pointless in my opinion without some sort of diversion from the tanks and planes the French had. Look at the poor record of French fighters in the early stages of the war.

The French were outgunned in the air badly, both in speed and maneuverability.

French tanks, as well, not only were deployed in the battlefield wrongly, they did not compete with the German armour on a 1 v 1 level.

So if the French dig in, anywhere, I'm not sure it would help. Shoot, they could have spent the previous 20 years leading up to the war building additional fortifications around Paris. Trench warfare was outdated and the Maginot Line and static fortifications grew increasingly obsolete as the war progressed.

It sounds crazy, but I think if the French army wants to avoid total defeat in 39-40, they would have had to retreat their main forces to French Algeria and Morocco, and maybe build up strength and experience in North Africa before coming home in a Dragoon style operation. In my opinion it would be the only way to save men and heavy equipment.

Politically though, there would have been no way the French forces leave the mainland.

i'm not quite so ready to agree with that. they really did have pretty much the most powerful military in europe at the time. and a few tanks that could have given the panzers a challenge. if this force actually had some competent leadership and recognized the german tactics better, i think they stood a very good chance at defending their borders. since they didn't act quickly or competently, the germans had the initiative and steamrolled through france. the whole concept of the tank and infantry tactics the germans used were making the rounds in military circles at the time. french commanders were almost entirely at fault for losing their country.

Well, the maginot line pretty much continued on the Meuse river through Belgium and to the southernmost of the Netherlands. The belgians dismissed it though and declared themselves neutral.

The germans showed their gratitude by invading Belgium without any declaration of war. And they did the same to the Netherlands and Luxembourg too, as they were weak nations not deserving to exist anyways. They also bombed Rotterdam after they surrendered, killing a lot of people, cuz Hitler wanted to build some new cool buildings there and bombing it was much cheaper. The danes did pretty much the same, they moved long away from the border to Germany, to signalize that they really were neutral and not give Germany any justification as they fabricated with Poland. Germany didn't care and attacked them without any warnings as well. Same happened in Norway, norwegians forces were ordered to not fire at the germans and not mobilize. But when the germans began to shot and kill norwegians, the officers at Oscarsborg and other fortresses repelled the attacks and in the process killed tousands of germans like at Blücher.

I kind of struggle to see how the germans could see themselves as the good guys in the war really. The only countries that declared war ON Germany was UK and France, after Germany had broken literary a dousin of deals. And Germany did not even try to negotiate afaik.

Germany invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, The Soviet Union, Italy. I kind of struggle to see how the germans didn't see themselves as the aggressors, I guess it bowls down to the 'ɽie Wacht am Rhein''-complex. «Everybody in this world is our enemies, so it does not matter how we fight them, for if we lose we will become obliterated. So the victory justifies the means». I don't know, very unrelated to OP, just me rambling here again apparently, F.


Propaganda to Mobilize Women for World War II

The Need for Working Women
Government propaganda during World War II was responsible for much of the change in society's acceptance of women in the workplace. Posters, radio programs, magazine articles, and advertisements showed women in overalls with greasy hands during these years for the first time. Through these media, the Office of War Information (OWI) and other agencies urged women to come out of their kitchens and move into the factories. They also communicated the need for women as nurses and as careful consumers.

The extensive propaganda campaigns were necessary in order to change public attitudes about women's roles left over from the previous decade. In the Depression years, the man of the household was the breadwinner, and since jobs were scarce, men usually received whatever jobs were available (Hartman 1982, 16). Middle-class married women had an especially tough time finding a job many states had even passed laws against married women in the workplace (U.S. Department of Labor 1946, 1). As a result, women stayed home and made a career of running the household. During World War II, the labor force lost many men to the draft, and the few poorer and single women who had already been working took over some of their jobs. But the largest untapped resource for labor was the middle-class woman at home ("More Women Must Go to Work," 74).

To mobilize these women, all of the government propaganda needed to communicate a central theme. The OWI rejected the idea of emphasizing high wages, for fear of an increase in consumer spending, leading to inflation. Instead, it concentrated on personal patriotism and emotional appeals:

The patriotic appeal had two aspects, the positive "do your part" approach and the negative "a soldier may die if you don't do your part" warning. The campaign slogan "The More Women at Work-The Sooner We'll Win" promised women that their contributions could bring their men home sooner. (Rupp 1978, 156)
By mid-1942, the draft was taking from 150,000 to 200,000 men a month, and one million women were needed in the factories if production was to follow schedules ("When Women Wear the Overalls," 70). By September 1943, 10 million men had gone to war, and almost all of the remaining men were already employed:

More than any other war in history, World War II was a battle of production. The Germans and Japanese had a 10-year head start on amassing weapons. . . . the side with the most bombs, aircraft, and weaponry would be the side that won the war. Production was essential to victory, and women were essential to production. (Weatherford 1990, 116)
The Office of War Information was responsible for "selling" the war to women. It sent monthly guides to magazine and newspaper editors and radio commentators, suggesting approaches to war topics. The OWI also allocated air time and print space, so that the media would stress the same themes at the same time. It distributed films and maintained a close relationship with the War Advertising Council. The agency launched campaigns and urged magazines to cover working women in their articles (Berkin and Norton 1979, 344).

These campaigns were initially successful. In December 1941, about 12 million women were employed by early 1944, this number was over 16 million-an increase of 36 percent. In manufacturing alone, a reported 6 million women labored to make weapons for the fighting men (Pidgeon 1944, 2).

The problem for the government seemed not to be employing women in these defense plans, but in convincing women to do the other 82 percent of the work that was unglamorous but had to be done. The War Manpower Commission (WMC) and the OWI tried to point out that every job a woman could take would help to solve the acute manpower shortage. The two agencies wanted to communicate to women that "any kind of service in the labor force is a distinct contribution to winning the war" ("More Women Must Go to Work," 76).

Problems of Working Women
As women entered the labor force in increasing numbers during the war, many problems arose. Childcare, housework, and transportation were all left up to the working woman. This resulted in many women quitting their jobs to take care of these domestic responsibilities ("Women Lagging in War Effort," 24). The largest and most urgent of these problems was childcare. Until this time, middle class women were expected to care for their own children. There were no profit-making childcare centers as there are today. Some factories made their own provisions for workers' children, setting up in-plant care (Weatherford 1990, 169).

Housework was an all-day task. Still, women were expected to handle it by themselves: '"It was an era of cooking from scratch and washing dishes by hand. It was before clothes dryers and permanent press. . . . The work of running a home required a far greater commitment of time [than today]" (Weatherford 1990, 161). If a woman had a job on the night shift in a factory, she would work all day doing household tasks, then all night as well.

With new tires virtually unavailable due to lack of rubber and gas rationing, transportation also reached a new urgency. Many women lived in semirural areas and needed to drive to work. These women often carpooled and drove their neighbors to the factory as well. One woman wrote, "You seldom see an empty back seat" (Weatherford 1990, 162).

Many of these problems had never been an issue before the war. As a result of the mobilization of women, the government woke up to the realities of childcare and women's difficulties in the home. These women communicated their need to share household tasks with their families and this, in turn, illustrated the need for change in stereotyped gender roles.

Volunteer Efforts
Even those women who stayed home played a major role in government campaigns. The OEI and WMC needed to communicate the importance of these women to the war effort, for it was this group that was primarily responsible for complying with rations and doing volunteer work: "In every city and village of the nation women are sewing for the Red Cross, participating in the civilian defense activities, organizing recreational services for members of the armed forces" (Kingsley 1942, 29).

When food production began to stagnate, women were encouraged to volunteer for the Woman's Land Army (WLA). This organization was responsible for taking women out of the cities and onto the farms. At first, many farmers were reluctant to comply with the WLA. They didn't believe city girls, ignorant of the ways farms function, would make a significant difference in food production. But women were the last available resource. By the first summer of the war, women working in agriculture had risen from one to 14 percent. Many of these women were volunteers (Weatherford 1990, 220).

Rationing was a necessary irritation for Americans during the Second World War. Women needed to learn the difference between "certificate rationing," "coupon rationing," and "value points." Such items as beef, wool, silk, coffee and tea, rubber, and even cotton were rationed. Because they were the primary consumers of their families, the government concentrated its messages on rationing toward women. The Ladies Home Journal printed this reminder: "We still get ten times as much beef a week as people in England, twenty times as much as they get in Russia, and &Mac222fty times as much a week as the lucky ones get in China" (Weatherford 1990, 201).

Military Service
Another major change during World War II with regard to women came when they were able to be inducted into the armed services. At the beginning of American involvement in early 1942, a bill went before the House of Representatives to establish a women's auxiliary in the Army. In May 1942, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed. (The Auxiliary status was dropped in July 1943 as the Women's Army Corps gained full military status.) Later, the Navy formed the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Coast Guard established the SPARS (Semper Paratus-their motto meaning "Always Read"), and the Marines accepted women, called simply "Marines." As of January 1943, all branches of the United States military included women. Two other groups formed to give women a chance to fly. The WAFA (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) and the WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots) took on the job of testing planes, ferrying them from one American coast to the other, and even towing targets for soldiers to practice on (Weatherford 1990, 43).

By January 1944, over 100,000 women had entered the WACs, WAVES, SPARS, WAFA, and Marines to release men for combat duty (Palmer 1944, 19). The movies and films of the time made up a large part of the propaganda influencing women to join the armed forces. Newspaper and magazine articles, too, showed a glamorized picture of military life (Lotzenhiser 1993). Although their numbers were small, these women were important because they were the first to be recognized with full military status.

Nurses on duty with the armed forces numbered only 36,000 in 1944 (Palmer, 1944, 19). Those who served abroad during the war received a great deal of publicity in relation to their small numbers. Still, nurses in Bataan had to care for 200 to 300 men apiece. Even before American involvement in 1941, some hospitals had to close wings because no nurses were available to work in them. By 1944 the United States needed 66,000 nurses for the military and 30,000 for civilian duty. To cope with this severe shortage, Congress passed a bill in May 1943 to provide funding for nursing schools. But when even this measure did not improve the situation, 73 percent of Americans polled approved of a draft for women to fill the much-needed nursing vacancies. In the House of Representatives, the Nurses Selective Service Act of 1945 passed 347-42 with 43 abstentions. The Senate Military Affairs Committee favored it, but one month later the Army entered Berlin and ended the war in Europe. When "the tradition of protection for women was placed against the need of wounded men for nurses, tradition was quick to go" (Weatherford 1990, 19).

Postwar Changes
The fact that women came so close to being drafted seems to remain a forgotten part of American history. When the end of the war finally came, Americans were too busy rejoicing to notice this fundamental change in the government's attitude toward women. Congress had agreed that the Constitution made no provisions for the protection of women from a draft, and all in Congress who were involved in that debate agreed that they had the authority to conscript both men and women. If the war had continued, it is likely that women would have been conscripted (Weatherford 1990, 19).

When the Second World War ended, many women wondered what would happen to them. There was no doubt in people's minds that many things had changed, especially regarding women's employment. But for many women, the choice was made for them:

The problem was to avoid massive unemployment after the war, and to government policy makers, unemployed was a male adjective. . . . Eighty percent of . . . working women
. . . tried to keep their jobs. Most were unsuccessful. Layoffs, demotion in rank and pay, outright firings, all eliminated women from their wartime positions. . . . The government assisted women's early retirement by cutting off federal funds for day care in 1946. (Berkin and Norton 1979, 279)
Propaganda was then concentrated on putting women back into the kitchens. Magazines began picturing suburban life and large families. Although the urgency for women in the factories had diminished and propaganda began to focus on homemaking, more women than ever before in peacetime were entering the workplace in the 1950s. They did not receive support or attention on any scale nearly like that of the war years, but the new phenomenon of a woman with a family and career continued to expand and grow.

Government propaganda proved a fast and efficient method for changing public opinion during the war. When the need for women to work and to be careful consumers reached the point of urgency, the OWI and other agencies took it upon themselves to communicate these needs to the American public. The focus of their propaganda was on patriotism and working for the country, but only for the duration of the war.

The propaganda released by the agencies was specific in that regard. The programs, articles, and advertisements communicated the ideals that the government thought the majority of middle-class Americans would support. However, the World War II working experiences aided in breaking down the stereotypical gender roles in the home. As a result of World War II propaganda, women learned and showed they could do additional and important jobs and were further motivated to achieve the advances they have made in the fifty years since the war. As writer Dorothy Thompson put it, "There is no example in which a class or group of people who have once succeeded in expanding the area of their lives is ever persuaded again to restrict it" (Weatherford 1990, 308).


‘A Breath of Freedom’

Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”

Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.

/>Black Chaplin shown wearing campaign hat talking to colored troops. On way to fighting zone on August 3, 1942. (AP Photo)

By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.


How GM's Divisions Tackled the War Effort

(In the coming months Military.com will profile companies that have provided significant support to the U.S. military in times of national crisis. This is Part II of a three-part series profiling General Motors' contribution to America's warfighting capabilities during World War II. This story was adapted from "The Complete History of General Motors 1908-1986.")

As American industry rushed to create what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the arsenal of democracy," General Motors rose to the occasion in a big way. And in the process of morphing from automobile manufacturer to war supplier, the company made sacrifices that underwrote the successes American forces would have on battlefields in both theaters in the challenging years that followed.

In February 1942, Fisher Body completely stopped making auto bodies and began assembling the famous M-4 "Sherman" tank in its No. 1 plant in Flint. The operation eventually moved to Grand Blanc and would turn out 11,358 tanks by 1945.

Buick tackled the manufacture of ammunition, churning out 75,000 casings per month for the duration. By the war's end, the division had supplied more than 12.5 million casings.

Buick also retooled to meet the demands of making engines for the B-24 bomber. At first, they talked of about 500 engines a month, but the government doubled its order by the time Buick had its tooling in place. By 1944, Buick's Melrose Park factory was regularly turning out 2,000 engines a month.

To produce the cylinder heads, Buick set up its own aluminum foundry, which it then leased to the government. The initial production target was 25,000 a month, but that was tripled before construction began and the foundry had to be scaled up nine or 10 different times. The goal was later set at 125,000 heads a month, and Buick met it.

The Army also asked Buick to design a new kind of war machine: the tank destroyer. The specs called for a lightly armored, highly mobile tracked vehicle fitted with a 37mm cannon in a 360-degree turret. The Army initially wanted diesel power but settled on gasoline engines to speed up delivery. Buick even devised an automatic transmission for it -- a hydraulic torque converter.

The vehicle was officially known as the M-18, but Buick workers dubbed it the "Hellcat." The division eventually built 2,507 M-18s. The transmission was later made four times bigger to accommodate the requirements for the Pershing tank.

GM's Cadillac division took to making tanks, specifically the M-5. The design was obsolete, but at the beginning of America's involvement in World War II the Army wanted all of them it could get.

Down in Indianapolis, the V-1710 aircraft engine designed by GM's Allison division was a long way from being production-ready, and Allison was hopelessly short of production capacity. Yet it was a vital power unit, destined for both the twin-boom Lockheed P-38 "Lightning" and North American Aviation's P-51 "Mustang" fighters.

In time, GM's auto engineers developed the turbocharged V-12 that was probably the most advanced aircraft engine to see action during World War II. Cadillac's Clark Avenue home plant speeded its production by turning out the required crankshafts, connecting rods, camshafts, and reduction-gear assemblies.

Chevrolet plants produced shells, gun parts, and aircraft engines. The division made around 3,000 armored cars and built a light-armor half-track that saw action in General George Patton's North African campaign. Part of Chevy's Tarrytown plant built 1.5-ton trucks and ambulances for the U.S. Army, while another part produced wing section and fuselage components as a subcontractor to Grumman Aircraft.

Oldsmobile manufactured 48 million rounds of artillery ammunition, 140,000 aircraft machine guns, 350,000 high-precision aircraft engine parts, and 175 million pounds of forgings for military trucks, tanks, guns and aircraft.

Pontiac, as one ad at the time put it, "was at war nine months before Pearl Harbor," first making an anti-aircraft gun for the U.S. Navy and then clearing 200,000 square feet in its sheet metal plant to install the precision equipment needed to make the Swedish-designed Bofors automatic field guns for the U.S. Army.

Pontiac also supplied front axles for the M-5 tanks built by Cadillac and air-launched torpedoes for the U.S. Navy. The torpedoes were a challenge in that each one had 5,222 parts and 1,225 assemblies that had to fit inside a slim envelope about 20 feet long.

In all, more than 113,000 employees left GM to serve while the company churned out $12.3 billion in aircraft, tanks, vehicles and arms.

When it was all counted up after the war, GM had produced 854,000 trucks (including the legendary DUKW, or "Duck" amphibious vehicles), 198,000 diesel engines, 206,000 aircraft engines, and 38,000 tanks, tank destroyers, and armored vehicles, not to mention vast quantities of guns and ammunition.



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