Industrial Know How Is Innovation

Posted: May 12, 2017 in History
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By Richard Martin, President, Alcera Consulting Inc.

Industrial know how is a form of innovation and technology. In fact, this is the main reason that the Allies were able to prevail in World War 2 and achieve total victory over the Third Reich and Imperial Japan.

Think of the standardized Liberty supply ships from the US; almost 3,000 were built. The B29 was the most advanced aircraft of the war, with a remote-controlled tail gun and the ability to fly higher than any other manned aircraft on any side of the war. They were manufactured in the thousands (almost 4,000)! And what about everything else? The Manhattan Project, canned rations, freeze dried coffee, medical techniques and technology, logistics and operational research, the jeep, landing craft, amphibious vehicles, computers, decryption/encryption technology and methods, etc., etc.

The Sherman tank epitomizes US ingenuity and industrial innovativeness. It was manufactured in numerous versions depending on the manufacturer’s production methods. For instance, if a factory worked with welded plate steel, there was a version it could build; if it specialized in foundry, there was a version for that. I remember seeing a version of the Sherman engine that was really two Chrysler engines bolted together. Almost 50,000 Sherman tanks were built in the US during the war.

The Germans never even came close to that level of production capability and industrial know how. Add in the Soviets’ ability to mass produce simple but effective weapons and you can see that the Third Reich was doomed. That’s why the Germans were obsessed with “lightning” war. They had to win quickly and commandeer the resources of all Europe if they hoped to have a chance of winning.

Unsurprisingly, the German war economy was a chaotic mix of competing interests and fiefdoms. I read somewhere that the economy was never put on a full war footing until late 1942, when Speer took over armaments production. Moreover, there were multiple projects competing for limited resources. For instance, the Germans never decided on a standardized tank design like the western Allies (Sherman) and the Soviets (T34). This greatly complicated production and logistics. Moreover, German designs were technically very advanced, but also relatively fragile, difficult to maintain, and complex to manufacture. On the other hand, the Germans produced the first cruise missile (V1) and the first ever ballistic missile (V2). However, they relied too much on such “super” weapons that would supposedly win the war in one fell swoop by demoralizing or terrorizing the enemy.

As for the Japanese, their mindset was warped beyond comprehension by the Bushido warrior code of honour and loyalty. Witness the kamikaze concept. While the Germans and Allies were focused on minimizing their own casualties (for the latter, as long as they were useful to the war effort), the Japanese were sending their brave young men to certain death.

© 2017 Richard Martin. Reproduction and forwarding allowed for non-commercial purposes.

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