World War 2 – two book reviews

The first and perhaps the lesser interesting of the two books was Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909 – 1941. But although it may not have been as interesting as the second book, it was still a very good, and well written piece. The author of the book, Mark Peattie, was inspired to write this book as a sequel to an earlier written book entitled Kaigun after proving it to be very successful amongst readers, and following much deserved positive feedback. Kaigun explored all aspects of the Japanese Navy but only had a small section dedicated to the Air Power in which proved to be so important during the early to mid-1900’s.

This is perhaps why Peattie felt that writing Sunburst was so important. This book demonstrates with great clarity the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese naval aviation from its origin in 1909 to its extreme capability it showed right before the beginning of the Pacific War. Peattie also gives a very detailed description of Japan’s naval air operation over China from 1937 to 1941, and then also touches on all the noticeable aspects of the naval air service: training, personnel, tactics, doctrine, technology, and industrial base.

In doing so, he combines data found in previous handbooks with important new information resulting from Japanese language sources. Throughout Sunburst, Peattie points out several strengths and weaknesses that he saw with the Japanese Naval Air Power, or the tactics that were used during the early 1900s. One thing that he went back and forth on before he eventually saw it to be more of a weakness for the Japanese was the development of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane.

It could be seen how Peattie feels about the controversial aircraft when hearing him describe it, “Dazzling in its quickness, extraordinary in its reach, and possessed of great firepower, its vulnerabilities in design and frailties in construction were ultimately discovered and exploited by its foes,” (Peattie, p. 93). Peattie went on to say, “Embodied the central assumption with which the Imperial Japanese Navy went to war: that speed, maneuverability, and firepower would deliver a slashing stroke at the outset and would bring the giant to his knees before he could assert his massive strength” (Peattie, p. 3). The A6M was maybe the fastest and arguably one of the more advanced fighter planes at the time, but it would soon be realized that it wasn’t able to stand up to many of the devastations that war had to offer.

It was definitely a strength for the Japanese right away, because of its ridiculous speed and its ability to fly and fight over 1,000 miles of ocean, but it couldn’t withstand the hammering of . 0-caliber bullets which was eventually discovered later by enemies, which obviously did not end well for the Japanese, but more specifically not well for hundreds of Japanese fighter pilots. Perhaps what is most interesting about this book is the views that Peattie has that try to explain the devastation and failure for the Japanese in their efforts to fight a large and very significant war by the use of air power. The main focus for the failures the Japanese went through can be blamed on their mismanagement of technology, and absolutely terrible organization.

They were not able to put out the necessary defense to even give themselves the slightest chance of the Pacific Conquest, and again an example of this would be the lack of parts and mechanics to develop sturdy and useful aircrafts that would withhold the elements and enemy fire, such as the Mitsubishi A6M. And then with better organization, the Japanese Navy would have been able to do a better job anticipating the huge mass numbers of fighter planes the United States was able to put into the air, and at the very least have provided adequate medical care and decent food to their soldiers.

The Japanese Naval Air Power was not even close to being ready to win, or even be competitive in a war. The second of the books, and by far the most interesting and enjoyable to read was Robert Citino’s evaluation of the German Army during the 1920s and 1930s. The Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920-1939, focuses mainly on the reforms of the German Army during the period that followed WW1, the Weimar Era.

Following WW1, the Germans started to conduct very detailed reviews of how commanders should conduct wars after seeing both the good and bad things that had occurred during the previous battles. Citino does an excellent job of showing us how the Germans start treating soldiers and equipment almost like a science. He also argues that German battlefield success was not the result of any particular new tactical method, technology or weapon but of “institutional excellence that came about through continued effort for a period of decades. And although Citino has very convincing arguments to support his claims, this is merely his opinion, and isn’t something that is necessarily true, especially considering some of the new developments the Germans had during these times that separated or at least escalated them much higher than most other nations; examples include developments and creations of many new gases, and then also great German advancements can be seen with many forms of war transportation such as tanks, aircrafts, and submarines.

Weimar Germany can and may always be looked at as a time when the nation produced some of the greatest thinkers, gave the world some of the most useful and popular inventions, and made some of the greatest advancements in technology: It is extremely difficult to even entertain the idea that the military did not get involved in some of these great compensations and benefit from them dramatically, especially following the loss of maybe the most devastating war they had ever been involved in.

But if there was anything positive that came out of WW1 for Germany, it was a returning army that had already been established, and was now made up of an estimated 100,000 men that survived the war. This allowed Germany to select the best and most knowledgeable thinking men to be put into positions of higher rank. Now with these establishments, the army could only go forward.

This put the German army a step ahead of much of their competition, and leaps ahead of where they had been previous to WW1. Although it can be argued that the new advancements in technology, transportation, and weapons had the largest part to do with the success the Germans experienced, the way they strategized also had a lot to do with it. Citino gives a great understanding on the conduct of all types of training that took place for members of the German army in his book.

He dedicated an entire chapter to describing the various tactical schools that were set aside for the German Army, and gives detailed descriptions of war games and new, never used war strategies practiced by the Germans that were aimed to completely catch there enemy off guard, or simply over power them. This can be seen by Citino saying, “The Reichswehr never fought a battle (unless one considers its pacification campaigns against red forces in the Ruhr, Saxony, and Thuringia).

It has no Austerlitz to its credit, or Waterloo for that matter. Its importance lies not in any list of battlefield triumphs, but in the way in which it taught an entire generation of young soldiers a new doctrine of warfare. This new doctrine wasn’t Blitzkrieg, or “Lighting War,” but Bewegungskrieg (the war of movement) with combined arms,” (Citino, p. 73).

Maneuver Warfare, or Bewegungskrieg is the concept of fighting in a battle and attempting to beat your enemy by weakening their decision-making through shock and disruption which occurs by constant movement, and always trying to anticipate their next move. This strategy of warfare proved over and over to be very effective because in several instances it continued to be overlooked by the enemy despite proving itself as successful. The Germans were never scared to experiment with new military tactics if they believed it had the ability to give them an upper-hand over their opposition.

Both Peattie’s book, Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941, and Citino’s book, The Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920-39 had a great deal to do with the use of different doctrines. Both books discuss and explore the different doctrines that deal with each of the militaries; Peattie with the Japanese Navy during the early and mid-1900s, and then of course Citino focuses on the doctrines, policies and strategies that the German Army uses during much of these same times.

While both the German and the Japanese strategies have many similarities and differences, the differences seam to completely outweigh any of the things that the two may have in common. Perhaps the main thing is that the Japanese air power was not nearly advanced enough to even put up a fighting chance to win any significant sized war, and during the same time, the German Army looked like they should have never been able to be beat during any battle.

Peattie showed us that the Japanese lacked crucial military experience, terrible organization and leadership skills, had very little supplies and did a terrible job with building reliable aircrafts, but almost the exact opposite can be seen in The Path to Blitzkrieg. Citini illustrates how Germany possessed one of the greatest military organizations in the entire world during the time. They were capable of defeating nearly any opponent because of the creative strategies used, mass number of military participants, and great advancements in technology and weapons.

It was obvious from the readings that the Japanese as well as the Germans both had different doctrines and strategies that they implemented for obvious reasons, and their militaries had many strengths and weaknesses that were very clearly illustrated by the two authors, but in the end it wouldn’t matter, because neither would ever prove to be good enough to defeat the United States and other similar military powers.