Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
Teaser Image

Logistics, Allied

Logistics—the ability to procure, maintain, and transport military material, facilities, and personnel—was one key to the Allied victory in World War II. The war required the procurement and transportation of vast quantities of materials to locations thousands of miles distant, with climates as varied as the frozen Aleutian Islands, the tropical jungles of New Guinea and Burma, and the deserts of North Africa. The service troops not only had to deliver the goods but also usually had to develop the transportation infrastructure before large quantities of materials could flow efficiently. The Allied powers of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States proved adept at solving most logistical challenges and getting the required materials to the locations where they were most needed.

The production of war materials was and still is ultimately dependent on resources. Although the Axis powers were short of many strategic materials from the very beginning of the war, the Allies were fortunate to have adequate supplies of the most vital war resources. The United States and the Soviet Union were especially well placed as far as natural resources were concerned, with sufficient supplies of such resources as coal, oil, iron, copper, lead, and zinc. Shortages of tin, nickel, manganese, tungsten, and magnesite were made up from other Allied powers or neutral states. These resources were available as long as the Allies controlled the seas and had sufficient merchant shipping to move them where needed. Latin America produced tin; Canada supplied nickel; and India, South Africa, and Latin America had supplies of manganese. Latin America had tungsten, and the Soviet Union and Australia had magnesite. What one country lacked, another often had in surplus.

No single resource proved more important than oil, and the Allies had adequate supplies of that vital commodity. The United States produced 60 percent of the world's oil in 1937, and Latin America produced 15 percent. Germany, by contrast, produced just .2 percent and depended on Romanian oil, which accounted for 2.4 percent of the world's production in 1937. The Allies drew on American domestic production along with oil from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

The only petroleum problems experienced by the Allies involved the production of sufficient high-octane aviation fuel and the general distribution of petroleum products. The United States eliminated the shortage of high-octane fuel by implementing a major construction program to build additional refineries. The construction of oil tankers, the defeat of the U-boat menace, and the development of pipelines to move fuel—such as the "Pipeline under the Qcean" (PLUTO) for the Normandy Invasion and the petroleum, oil, lubricants (POL) pipeline system across France—all were key to solving the transportation problems. Some campaigns were affected by fuel shortages, such as Lieutenant General George Patton's drive across France in the summer of 1944, but the Allies usually had ample supplies of fuel with only occasional spot shortages, whereas major fuel shortages hindered the Axis powers throughout most of the war.

The four major Allied powers each had special logistical requirements and problems during the war, which they confronted with varying degrees of success. In the end, the combined logistical effort enabled the Allies to defeat the Axis powers.

In the Far East, the Chinese—both the Nationalist Chinese led by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and the Communist Chinese led by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung)—had large numbers of ground forces in the field and millions of troops during the war but limited industrial capability to support them. By 1941, most of China's industrial areas had been overrun by the Japanese, following their invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and China proper in 1937. The Chinese needed whatever aid the other Allies could spare, but geography imposed serious limitations on transporting that aid into the country. Prior to December 1941 and the U.S. entry into the war, Western aid to China was limited to a trickle of supplies arriving through Burma or was primarily symbolic, such as that provided by the famed Flying Tigers (the American Volunteer Group) commanded by Claire Chennault.

Construction of the Burma Road and later the Ledo Road and the establishment of an air bridge over the Himalaya Mountains enabled greater quantities of aid to reach China, but these provisions were limited in comparison to materials going to Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Japan's invasion of Burma and its subsequent drive toward India imposed further difficulties on providing aid to China. Indeed, getting military assistance there remained a daunting task throughout the war. The success of the air bridge and the Burma and Ledo Roads helped keep the Chinese in the war, thereby tying down the majority of the Japanese army.

The British mobilized when war broke out in 1939, but they were dependent on their overseas empire and trade for foodstuffs and war materials. The timely arrival of merchant ships loaded with fuel and raw materials was crucial to the long-term survival of the British Isles in the war. If resources could not reach the homeland and British troops overseas expeditiously, then the war would be lost. Thus, the Battle of the Atlantic proved to be the most important campaign of the war for Britain. Maintaining the sea-lanes to its overseas empire, along with securing massive amounts of aid from the United States in the form of Lend-Lease assistance, enabled Britain to remain in the war.

The Soviet Union, which joined the Allied camp in June 1941 after it was invaded by Germany, faced some of the most difficult logistical challenges. With millions of military and civilian casualties and much of its European territory occupied by the German army, the Soviet Union had to mobilize fully its remaining population and endure sacrifices at levels not known in the West. The Soviet logistical effort relied on the complete mobilization of the Soviet citizenry and the use of Siberian resources, supplemented by Lend-Lease materials from the Western Allies.

During the initial campaign of the summer of 1941, the Soviet Union evacuated entire industries, moving factory machinery from the path of the advancing Germans to safety behind the Urals. Workers were also relocated in large numbers so they could put the machinery back into production, often in the dead of winter. The sacrifices of the Soviet people were extraordinary, but by the end of 1942, the Soviet economy was outproducing that of Germany in nearly all key areas of armaments production, such as tanks, aircraft, and artillery.

Recognizing that it was vital to keep the Soviet Union in the war, the United States extended Lend-Lease to that country in November 1941, sending large quantities of weapons, trucks, and equipment to the Red Army and also food. Aid to the Soviet Union was sent by one of three routes: by ship to Murmansk, by ship to the Persian Gulf and then by rail to the Soviet Union, or by ship across the Pacific to Vladivostok in Soviet hulls. U.S. shipments of tanks and aircraft equaled less than 10 percent of the total produced by the Soviets, but additional items such as trucks (over 400,000), boots, sugar, foodstuffs, and communications equipment played important roles in helping Soviet forces survive and then take the offensive against the Germans.

In the United States, the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940, the expansion of the army and its burgeoning need for weapons, and armaments orders from France and Great Britain all promoted the growth of military industries. The Lend-Lease Act, passed by Congress in March 1941, provided for the shipment of goods and war materials to nations fighting the Axis powers and helped make the United States the "arsenal of democracy."

During the war, the United States produced vast quantities of goods for the war effort, including aircraft, tanks, trucks, warships, merchant ships, oil, and agricultural products. Henry J. Kaiser mastered the art of mass-producing merchant ships, and in 43 months of operation, Henry Ford's Willow Run, Michigan, factory turned out 8,685 B-24 bombers, one every 102 minutes. Its industrial might enabled the United States not only to arm its allies but also to field the best-supplied, most mobile force to that point in military history.

In March 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall's reorganization of the army into the Army Ground Forces, the Army Air Forces, and the Army Service Forces (ASF). Headed by General Brehon Somervell, the ASF was responsible for supplying, quartering, and transporting the ground and air forces. It provided the myriad services required by an army in the field. Meeting the logistical requirements for an expanding military within the continental United States was, in itself, a daunting task, not to mention the job of supporting forces in the European and Pacific Theaters.

Although the Allied invasion of France did not take place until 1944, the buildup for the invasion began in May 1942. Then, in November 1942, Allied forces invaded North Africa in Operation torch. The Mediterranean Theater of Operations, Services of Supply command oversaw the American logistical effort in the Mediterranean.

To ensure the safe buildup of supplies in Britain and the continued support of Allied forces in the Mediterranean, winning the Battle of the Atlantic was critical. British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill and Roosevelt met at Casablanca in January 1943 and decided that battle and the bombing of Germany would have the highest priority. The accomplishment of both goals reflected the importance of logistics: the first ensured the safe and timely arrival of war materials from North America, and the second hindered the German and Italian logistical efforts by around-the-clock bombing of Axis industry.

The Normandy Invasion required an immense logistical effort, ultimately involving the transportation of hundred of thousands of troops and millions of tons of cargo. Allied planners knew that they could not count on using French ports, so to ensure that materials could be gotten ashore, the Allies constructed two artificial harbors known as Mulberries and then moved them to the invasion area. The Mulberries were truly an engineering marvel, but they failed to meet expectations because one was destroyed and the other was severely damaged by a Channel storm in late June 1944. To ensure the rapid delivery of gasoline, the Allies laid a pipeline under the English Channel that allowed fuel to be pumped from England to Normandy, where it was decanted into 5-gallon cans or pumped into large storage tanks until the pipeline could be extended across France.

Once Allied forces were ashore in France, the European Theater, Services of Supply command—known after June 1944 as the Communications Zone (COMMZ)—oversaw the supply and administration needs of the U.S. Army in France. Commanded by Lieutenant General John C. H. Lee, COMMZ played a vital role in keeping the army moving forward. When the Allies broke out of Normandy in Operation cobra in late July 1944, the First and Third U.S. Armies moved so quickly across northern France that they outran their supply lines. As an emergency measure, the Red Ball Express was activated—a circular truck route on which vehicles moved around the clock to transport fuel, ammunition, and food to the forward units. The route helped fill the gap until French rail lines could be restored. Toward that end, the Allies transported locomotives and rolling stock to France aboard ships. In sum, the Allied logistical effort in the Mediterranean and in western Europe made the defeat of Germany in May 1945 possible. Without adequate logistics support, Allied forces would have been unable to pressure the Germans on multiple fronts and destroy the ability of the Axis states to wage war.

A key to victory in the Pacific Theater was the transportation of men and material across the ocean to newly created bases. Units such as the Seabees carved air and naval bases out of tropical islands in record time. Marines and army units secured suitable islands, and fleet anchorages and depots ashore were established. Before the war, naval leaders assumed that the U.S. Navy would have to fight at vast distances in the Pacific, and they developed the "fleet train" concept, one of the most important factors in the Allied victory in the Pacific. A great fleet of merchant ships, fleet oilers, tenders, and support vessels of all kinds kept the supply lines open and the fleet functioning for long periods at considerable distances from the nearest bases. The U.S. Navy mastered the art of midocean refueling and reprovisioning. U.S. ships were thus able to remain at sea for extended periods, only calling at a fleet anchorage for major repairs or crew rest and relaxation. The ability of the navy to bring everything it needed to establish a fleet anchorage turned peaceful lagoons such as Ulithi into bustling, major port facilities. Logistics proved essential in the China-Burma-India Theater as well. Although low on the overall priority list, the movement of supplies over the Burma Road and the aerial resupply of China over the Himalaya Mountains from bases in northern India helped keep China in the war and tie down the bulk of the Japanese army.

Throughout the war, the use of aircraft to haul supplies to advancing armies or forces cut off from the more conventional forms of resupply became increasingly important. Whether bearing supplies or paratroopers, the cargo planes—the C-46 and C-47—were vital additions to the overall logistical effort. During the war, both sides learned the limitations in the use of aircraft for resupply, but the Allies had far more transport aircraft than the Axis powers and were able to use them more effectively. Allied aircraft supported airborne operations, supplied troops and evacuated the wounded, and transported high-priority supplies to advancing units of Patton's Third Army during its drive across France. Transport aircraft were very valuable assets, provided their limitations were understood.

In all theaters of the conflict, logistics proved critical to Allied successes in World War II. When the Axis powers failed to achieve a quick victory in the war, the initiative passed to the Allies, with their far greater collective economic strength. This factor, together with their ability to get these resources to the fighting fronts, helped ensure the Allies' victory.

Steve R. Waddell

Further Reading
Carter, Worrall R. Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil: The Story of Fleet Logistics Afloat in the Pacific during World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1953.; Carter, Worrall Reed, and Elmer Ellsworth Duvall. Ships, Salvage, and Sinews of War: The Story of Fleet Logistics Afloat in Atlantic and Mediterranean Waters during World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954.; Colley, David P. The Road to Victory: The Untold Story of World War II's Red Ball Express. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2000.; Harrison, Mark, ed. The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.; Ohl, John Kennedy. Supplying the Troops: General Somervell and American Logistics in WWII. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1994.; Ruppenthal, Roland G. The U.S. Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations—Logistical Support of the Armies. 2 vols. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1953, 1959.; Schrader, Charles R. U.S. Military Logistics, 1607–1991: A Research Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992.; Van Creveld, Martin. Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.; Waddell, Steve R. United States Logistics: The Normandy Campaign, 1944. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  About the Author/Editor
  Documents Prior to 1938
  1939 Documents
  1940 Documents
  1941 Documents
  1942 Documents
  1943 Documents
  1944 Documents
  1945 Documents
ABC-cLIO Footer