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Military History/What technologies played the most important roles in World War II


I have to write a 4,500-5,000 word essay for my IB Theory of Knowledge class, and the topic I chose is "How did Technology Affect the Outcome of World War II"  I found an article on here that helped me immensely, but I have further questions.  What technologies specifically affected the war the most, including the application of these technologies.  Also, what was the cost of the Japanese's Zero?  Please provide as much information as possible as this is a HUGE report requiring lots of information.  I look forward to your response.  Thanks in advance!

First off the Japanese Zero cost between 40,000 and 50,000 US dollars to produce.  Different companies built the Zero in different models with different engines.  Just over 10,000 Zeros were built by the time the war ended in 1945.  

World War 2 technologies
1.   Radar
2.   Jet engines
3.   Atomic weapons
4.   Penicillin
5.   Bomber guidance
6.   Guided weapons
7.   Automatic weapons
8.   Digital computers
9.   Antitank rockets

Radar has to be the number one technological change during World War II and truly changed the outcome of the war. The British use of radar during the Battle of Britain which has been written about in numerous books, WebPages, and celebrated in videogames.  This definitely has to go down as one of the most extreme examples of not only radar but of a common control system; radar gave the British warning, it gave them time to use their resources in an effective way. The Germans likewise used radar very effectively during the night bombing raids by the British, but the problem was the Germans never develop what was called the cavity magnetron which allowed for much smaller and more powerful radars; if you notice German aircraft during the second world war had large antennas sticking out of their nose of their aircraft.  The British and American aircraft were able to use antennas that were actually embedded inside aircraft making aircraft more aerodynamic. The high seas navies use of radar specifically in the Pacific goes without saying was a war winning technology. Radar gave United States Navy ability to fight night. The Japanese trained very hard on how to fight at night using star shells and using binoculars with large optical lenses, not quite night scopes but leading towards that technology. The U.S. Navy with radar detection and radar corrected gunfire mitigated the Japanese advantage in night battles.  This lead to several battles near Guadalcanal in 1943 where the U.S. Navy was able to sink a large number of Japanese cruisers, transports and even a battleship. Another development of radar came at the close to the end of the war; the development of the proximity fuses which basically used radar. A proximity fuse was able to explode the shell very close to enemy aircraft. Development of the proximity fuse may have saved the U.S. Navy tens of thousands of lives. Radar also came into its own by tracking submarines. German U-boats during World War II primarily ran on the surface at night thinking they were invulnerable.  The British came up with the idea putting radar systems on aircraft such as the PBY Catalina, the Sunderland, the B-24 and other aircraft.  Radars were used to track German submarines at night and then attack.   So radar took away from the German Navy the illusion that at night no one can see you.

The second big technology to truly come out of the Second World War would have to be the jet engine. Both Germany and Great Britain had been working on Jet technologies before the Second World War began. A man by the name of Frank Whittle in Britain and Henkel in Nazi Germany developed the first jet engines. Germany actually flew a jet aircraft first just before the start of the Second World War and while took many years did produce the world's first jet powered fighter aircraft the ME-262. The Germans also went on to develop the world's first attack bomber that was Jet powered; the Arado 234. Britain of course developed the Gloster Meteor which became extremely important in intercepting the V1.  The V-1 buzz bombs also an early jet powered aircraft which was also the world's first operational cruise missile. The US got into the game late but by the end of the war had produced the P-80 Shooting Star which was just entering squadron service by the time the war ended in Europe. The ME262 designed originally as a jet fighter evolved into a multirole fighter aircraft that also had attack capabilities. A night fighter variant was also designed with a radar system and capable of carrying a two-man crew. These technologies didn't do a lot for the war; but it led to technological developments after the war. But the technology of the jet engine was a race between primarily Great Britain and Nazi Germany; the winner of course would have a greater capability of controlling the air.

Number three on my list would have to be the atomic bomb.  The United States of course develop the atomic bomb thanks in part to a lot of European physicists; one of the biggest names would have to be Fermi who as a Jew had escaped Fascist Italy. Germany was developing an atomic program; but the Germans needed heavy water from Norway which was going to be used as a moderator or as a substance to absorb neutrons in a nuclear reactor. British and Norwegian commandos time and time again thwarted the German efforts to collect enough heavy water to actually put a nuclear reactor into operation. The Germans actually build two nuclear reactors one which was a small sub sized unit developed by  Bohr but this unit had critical problems and exploded; a second reactor was designed and was in the process being built when the war ended. United States pumped $1 billion into atomic research and developed two separate types of atomic weaponry. One a uranium bomb which was the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima and a second bond called Fat Man which was based on plutonium, a man-made substance developed in reactors that were powered by uranium. With the atomic bomb United States was able to end the war in 1945.  Without atomic bombs the war would have drag on into most likely 1946 possibly 1947.  The Japanese had an atomic research program but it did not advance far enough to actually build a fully functional nuclear reactor.

A critical technology was actually developed before World War II and that would be of course the use of antibiotics. Penicillin was a wonder drug and really saved millions of lives particularly on the Allied side during the war.  The key technology was to make it mass producible and that is what something United States did. The ability to take a drug that could save millions of lives from common infections not only saved the lives of countless soldiers on the battlefield but also countless civilians across the planet over the next decades. But the race to develop penicillin into a substance that almost any medic or any doctor could use would have to be one of the key developmental processes the came out of the Second World War.

Another major technology advance would have to be the use of guidance beams for bombers. The Germans had first developed a series of radio beacons in order to help guide bombers during night bombing. Night bombing was found to be extremely inaccurate so the German set up a series of radio stations that would broadcast signals when those signals crossed it caused a light to go on in a bomber; the bombardier would know then to drop bombs on a target. The British detected these radio signals and were able to send their own signals confusing the bombers as to where they were supposed to drop their bombs.  The British of course adapted this technology for their own bombing programs against Germany during World War II.  The development of guidance systems for bombers led to modern day modern navigational techniques such as Loran and then later satellite navigation systems such as Navistar and of course GPS. But the ability to guide a bomber at night close to the target is got to be one of fundamental technological discoveries of the Second World War.

World War II saw the proliferation of guided weapons. Germany had a lead in developing guided weapons.  Germany had a series of surface-to-air missile programs, surface to surface missiles the V1 and V2, and they also developed anti ship missiles that were radio guided. The radio guided anti ship missiles such as the HS 293 and other guided bombs were initially very successful for the Germans; the problem was the radio frequencies the Germans used were easily jammed by Allied radio equipment. The Germans then did something truly radical the Germans developed a wire guided air to air missile called the X4. The X4 was designed to be launched from small fighters in order to intercept bombers; it was wire guided and tracked a series of wires from the missile back to the aircraft were the pilot of the aircraft could guide the weapon into its target. This technology was applied directly in the 1950s and 1960s to a whole series of antitank missiles. The French actually were the first uses a series of missiles called the SS 10 and SS 11. United States followed with the tube launched optically guided weapon or TOW series of antitank missiles.  The Russians also using this basic technology developed a whole series of antitank missiles that were both helicopter and land-based. In addition to short range weapons the Germans embarked on long-range guided weapons technologies. The V1 and V2 programs were demonstrations of Germany's technological prowess in developing long-range, and very destructive robotic vehicles. The V1 flying around 400 miles an hour carrying a large explosive warhead was very devastating; its accuracy was suspect and he could be intercepted by very high-speed propeller craft and of course the British designed Meteor jet fighter. For the V2 there was no defense; the V2's traveling at a speed of 2000 to 3000 miles an hour; were impossible to intercept with any technology the Americans or the British had. It was a true terror weapon; liquid fueled, heavily armed and a long-range range of over 200 miles.  The V2 attacks on Britain only ended when the Germans were pushed out of France and Belgium. The Germans of course used V2's also against other targets in the West and on occasion they did use them against Russian forces without much success. The V2 was a highly capable missile, but was again not very accurate. But the V2 led directly to the ICBMs both the United States and the Soviet Union developed.  Later the V2 legacy lead to the space programs by both said countries. United States began several guided weapons programs during the Second World War; one of them was an anti-ship missile called the BAT was actually used in 1945 to sink a Japanese destroyer.  The US also played around with remote-controlled bombers that were radio controlled and had a television camera in the bomber that would help guide the bomber to its target.  The program was never very successful and ended up killing a very promising American Robert Kennedy whose brother eventually went on to become president John F. Kennedy. After the fall of Germany the United States Navy actually began building their own version of the V1.  It was planned to be used against Japan in case there are actually had to be in invasion of the Japanese home islands.  The V1 technology was adapted, improved and was fairly successful, but with Japan not needing an invasion the project was eventually put on hold. After World War II the United States did develop a series of cruise missiles using many of the techniques and technologies from the V1 and V2.

A technology that's still in many ways affects us today would have to be the development of automatic weapons. In World War 1 the United States developed what was called the BAR or Browning automatic rifle in many ways the predecessor to all modern assault rifles. During World War II the Germans of course develop a weapon called the STG 44 which is the world's first assault rifle.  Using many ideas of the Browning automatic rifle but using a smaller cartridge; the STG 44 was extremely effective, very deadly and carried a large magazine. After the war the Russians of course produce their own automatic rifle AK-47.  United States initially developed the M 14 which was an automatic version of the M1 Grand and of course the US developed the M-16 rifle in the 1960s.

The development of the digital computer during the Second World War is another key technology that came out of the conflict. The British invention of the Colossus was a very early digital computer that helped decode the enigma coding system that the Germans had.  Colossus was fundamentally in changing how the British attacked the submarine forces of Nazi Germany.  United States also developed its own digital computers in order to better evaluate artillery shells and also it assisted with computing large numbers for the atomic bomb program. Digital computers of course are now a fundamental part of modern society.
When one looks at the modern battlefield today one of the most powerful elements is of course the rocket. During World War II the United States developed what was called at the time the bazooka or an antitank rocket.  This was the first time an individual soldier had a chance to defeat a tank. Before the development of the bazooka antitank weapons primarily were large caliber weapons 37MM, two pounder, 57MM, 75MM and 88MM guns were used to defeat tanks. These weapons were heavy and unwieldy thus hard to move around. The bazooka offered an unparalleled ability for defeating enemy tanks. With the development of the shaped charge warhead in a small solid rocket motor the bazooka produced a weapon that could stop a tank from anywhere from 10 yards up to over 100 yards in some cases depending upon terrain. In 1943 the Germans attained copies of the bazooka from North Africa and quickly built their own antitank rocket called the Panzerschreck.  With an even larger warhead the Panzerschreck was extremely effective against Soviet and Allied tanks. The Germans realized they needed something even smaller and more mobile than their knockoff of the bazooka; so the Germans developed the Panzerfaust.  This smaller weapon proved to be an extremely effective short-range antitank weapon.  The Soviets after the war developed the RPG2 then eventually the RPG7 series from the earlier German experiments in antitank rockets during.
I hope this is helpful I've included some links that should help but I do wish you success in your research and your project thank you.

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Paul Sutton


I can answer questions on World War Two weapons, tactics, and strategy. I can answer questions on Weapons systems and their development. I can answer guestions on Space exploration history. I am a World War 2 expert. I study Military Weapons Systems and the usage of those systems.


I work for Saint Petersburg College as a TRS or Technology resources specialist. I read 10 to 15 books a year on World War 2 and weapon systems. I also have a BA in History from USF.

I have a BA in history from USF.

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