Technology & Technique Advances
Science and technology assumed paramount importance during World War II. Effective coatings for everything from munitions to matches; new metal alloys; carbon monoxide indicators for fighter plane cockpits; and new plastic products and textiles all came about because of the war. A method for making special paper for war maps was invented and used extensively.
War weapons research led to a contractor's development of printed circuits, which substituted printed wiring, resistors, and coils for the conventional discrete components in electronic devices. This technology contributed to a new field of electronic miniaturization.
Synthetic rubber became a precious commodity during World War II when imports of natural rubber from the Far East were cut off. Indeed, natural rubber became so rare in the United States that gasoline was rationed to discourage people from driving cars (which, of course, ran on rubber tires). Ultimately, the nation spent as much on its rubber program as it did on the atomic bomb. Today, the U.S. synthetic rubber industry reports more than $4.5 billion in annual shipments, and the nation exports substantial amounts of these materials.
Early "smart" weapons systems helped the Allies win the war. One was a fuse that exploded a projectile when directly over its target, rather than on impact, making the weapon five to 20 times more effective. The "radio proximity fuse" was a tiny radio transmitter and receiver about the size of a lightbulb, powered by batteries or generators. Variations on the device were designed for rockets, shells, and bombs. Hundreds of workers spent several years perfecting the technology, first tested in early 1941. The fuse, often described as a leading technical advance of the wartime period, was not released for general use until 1944. Mortar shell fuses did not go into full production, but fuses for rockets and bombs went into full production and were used extensively. The first major combat use of the fuse was during the preinvasion bombardment of Iwo Jima in 1945. Some 8.3 million fuses were produced.
The first fully automated guided missile ever used successfully in combat was called the Bat. The 1,000 pound missile emitted shortwave radiation and was guided by the radar echoes of the enemy target. In addition to its self-guidance capability, the Bat was known for its long range, high accuracy, and high payload. It was used in the Pacific theater.
As the Allies prepared to invade occupied Europe in 1942, a truly nutty idea swept through the British military hierarchy: build giant aircraft carriers made of ice. The ships could be made cheaply, they figured. And, maybe, they could be constructed tough enough to withstand bullets and torpedoes.
With Churchill's blessing, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, began the task of developing "berg-ships" up to 4,000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth. His task seemed to get easier when, in early 1943, two American professors discovered that a very tough material could be produced by adding a small amount of wood pulp to water before freezing. They called this material pykrete, in honour of (Mountbatten's scientific advisor) Geoffrey Pyke.
The first jets were developed during World War II and saw combat in its last year. Messerschmitt developed the first operational jet fighter, the Me 262. It was considerably faster than piston-driven aircraft, and in the hands of a competent pilot, was practically untouchable.
Street fighting is a unique kind of combat. The front lines are only a street apart, and sometimes not even that. Often the US held one building and the Wehrmacht the next. Sometimes one side held the ground floor and the enemy those above! Street fighting is all about terrain. The buildings, the streets, and the rubble of a city combine to make a unique battlefield. The very density of a city that makes it so different from other battlefields also creates problems. In the open it is difficult to move near the enemy without attracting a hail of fire. Buildings, however, provide plenty of cover making it possible to move and fight from a room with the enemy right next door.
Troops taking part in street fighting are equipped with pick axes, crowbars, and explosives. They can break ‘mouseholes' through walls allowing them to enter rooms without using doors and windows. This apparently innocuous term has sinister connotations. It describes one of the elements of urban warfare in which troops do not enter houses or rooms from the door. These small holes allow them to work their way from room to room without exposing themselves to enemy fire, and to launch surprise assaults into enemy held rooms.
Blitzkrieg (German, literally lightning war or flash war) is a popular name for an offensive operational-level military doctrine which involves an initial bombardment followed by employment of mobile forces attacking with speed and surprise to prevent an enemy from implementing a coherent defense.
The generally accepted definition of blitzkrieg operations include the use of maneuver rather than attrition to defeat an opponent, and describe operations using combined arms concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery and close air support assets. These tactics required the development of specialized support vehicles, new methods of communication, new tactics, and an effective decentralized command structure. Broadly speaking, blitzkrieg operations required the development of mechanized infantry, self-propelled artillery and engineering assets that could maintain the rate of advance of the tanks. German forces avoided direct combat in favor of interrupting an enemy's communications, decision-making, logistics and of reducing morale. In combat, blitzkrieg left little choice for the slower defending forces but to clump into defensive pockets that were encircled and then destroyed by following German infantry.
World War II stands as a watershed in the development of psychological science, when social forces and intellectual trends engendered a major shift in the role of the psychologist. As the professional self-image of the psychologist was transformed, public attitudes and expectations about psychology also changed. World War II was the catalyst for expansion into the mental health profession. Psychiatrists were overwhelmed, and psychologists came into their own. Basically the Veterans Administration created the clinical psychologists' profession, which by 1960 had grown to be the largest area in psychology. World War II mobilized an alliance of clinical and experimental psychologists.
The most significant technological innovations that take place during the course of a war will usually have their biggest impact upon the outcome of the next. Air power innovation is no exception in this respect. Using the air as an avenue of attack was a way of reaching even further into enemy terrain whilst maintaining a safe distance. And as German airship and biplane raids on London showed, air power's reach needn't be restricted to targets immediately behind enemy lines. You could strike at your opponent's 'vital centres', such as bridges, ports and factories, as well taking the war directly to the civilian population.
As bombers grew bigger and more capable of flying further and at higher altitudes, their payloads became larger and more destructive. The firestorms that had consumed the cities of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, killing thousands and rendering millions more homeless, were still not enough to bring the much sought Allied victory. It would take the meeting of British, Russian and American ground forces in the burning streets of Berlin to bring an end to the war in Europe.
In the history of warfare, nuclear weapons have been used only twice, both during the closing days of World War II. The use of these weapons, which resulted in the immediate deaths of around 100,000 to 200,000 individuals and even more over time, was and remains controversial - critics charged that they were unnecessary acts of mass killing, while others claimed that they ultimately reduced casualties on both sides by hastening the end of the war. Navy Captain William Parsons armed the bomb during the flight, since it had been left unarmed to minimize the risks during takeoff. The gravity bomb, a gun-type fission weapon, with 130 pounds of uranium-235, performed as expected. At 8.15 local time on the morning of 6 August 1945 in the Japanese industrial town of Hiroshima, another campaign would draw to a close, and a new era of conflict would begin: nuclear stalemate in the Cold War.
Soon after the declaration of war on Germany in 1941, the U.S. Congress authorized the Engineering Science Management War Training Program (ESMWT) for the training and upgrading of technicians in industrial and defense plants. The School of Engineering supplemented its regular program by offering numerous courses for that special purpose.
During and after the war, federal officials came to recognize the importance of supporting the basic research that made useful applications of science and technology possible. At the same time, research costs became so great that government support was critical to the nation.
In the Post-War Era, with the national mandate for research universities to play a prominent role in the federal vision of prosperity and security, the University (Washington University in St. Louis) and the School entered a second phase of development as a national educational and research entity. By the time of the University's centennial, the School was fulfilling its aspirations as a leading center for engineering education and research. The Henry Edwin Sever Institute of Technology, organized as the graduate division of the School of Engineering, was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1948.
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