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Epic Fails 1939-1945

A few months ago, I did a column on the Epic Fails of the so-called “Great War” of 1914-1918.

Sadly, as we all know, military idiocy did not end in the trenches of the Somme, nor sink with the battlecruisers at Jutland.

In fact, the next major go-round proved itself every bit as full of moments of failure as the previous.

Here, without any further ado, are The Epic Fails of World War II.

Strategy Fail: The Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.

Intending to knock the United States out of the war completely, Japan actually committed a series of gross strategic blunders. Perhaps the worst was that the attack focused almost entirely on ships. The dockyards and the oil depots were relatively unscathed, which allowed the U.S. to repair its damaged fleet, and also continue using Pearl Harbor as a staging base for future attacks.

Armored Tactics Fail: The American Sherman M4 Medium Tank

The American Sherman M4 Medium Tank gets a bad reputation mainly because of the tactics of the American Army.

As strange as it may sound, the M4 was never designed to duke it out with the biggest tanks, and was instead to rely on specially-designed “Tank Destroyers” to deal with Axis heavies. Of course, while the Shermans were waiting for the Tank Destroyers to show up, the German Panthers and Tigers were busying reducing said Shermans to scrap metal.

Fortification Fail: The Maginot Line

Successfully defended France’s border with Germany against invasion.

Unsuccessfully defended France’s border with Belgium from German invasion.

Neutrality Fail: The American USS Greer

Three months United States got into the war, the USS Greer was fired on by a U-boot. The destroyer wasn’t doing anything suspicious, aside from hanging around the vicinity of said U-boot, innocently dropping depth charges.

Uniform Fail: German Uniforms During Operation Barbarossa

Russia is a huge country. Distances are vast. Supplies take time to reach the front lines.

Invading armies can reliably expect to stay in Russia for several months.

Yet German soldiers marched into Russia wearing their summer uniforms, and were never issued proper winter attire until long after it became apparent that Blitzkrieg was bogging down. Soviet uniforms may not have looked as nice, but at least they were suited for winter warfare.

Life Expectancy Fail: Soviet Penal Battalions

Life for the average Red Army soldier could never be considered “pleasant,” but woe betide Ivan if he fell afoul of his superiors, and got sentenced to a Penal Battalion. Typical missions included such life enriching activities as clearing a minefield….by charging through it.

On completion of their sentences, the soldiers were returned to the relative safety of their front-line units.

Warship Fail: HMS Hood

World War I taught that the Battlecruiser, with its heavy armament but light armor, was not the brightest idea for a warship. In spite of this, Britain decided to build more during the inter-war years. Hood’s encounter with the Bismark was one of the most one-sided contests in military history.

Invasion Fail: The Italian Invasion of Greece

This invasion was so badly mismanaged that the Greeks not only stopped it cold, but actually pushed the Italian army back from its initial point of attack. Greece was finally subdued with the help of German units that were initially intended the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Thus, Mussolini’s Greek debacle delayed Barbarossa by several months.

Defense Placement Fail: The British Defenses of Singapore

Britain expected Singapore to be attacked from the sea, so all of the defenses pointed that direction. The planners could not imagine that an invading army might march through the impenetrable jungle to attack from the landward side… at least until they saw the Japanese Army do just that.

Fighter Fail: The German Messerschmitt BF-110

A two-engined fighter, designed to escort bombers on long range runs. Worked quite well at protecting German bombers… so long as no RAF Spitfires or Hurricanes were in the area. It eventually did credible service as a nightfighter, but in during the daylight hours, it was more turkey than eagle.

Ship Fail (Again!): The Japanese IJN Yamato and IJN Musashi

These sisters weren’t really bad ships…indeed they could have defeated any American or British battleships they encountered. The problem was that by the time these giants were launched, the era of the battleship was over.

It boggles the mind to wonder what would have happened if Japan had used the steel to build more aircraft carriers.

Fighter Fail (Again!): The British Boulton-Paul Defiant 

A fighter whose entire armament was in a turret behind the pilot. Works reasonably well, just so long as the pilot flies a relatively straight course with no sudden moves. In an actual dogfight, the Defiant proved an easy kill. Much like the BF-110, it would later perform decently as a nightfighter.

Special Weapon Fail: Soviet Dog Mines

Dogs were trained to associate tanks with food. They were then fitted with special harnesses, designed to explode when the dog went under the tank. The dogs were then released on the battlefield, where they promptly went for the nearest tanks… which were usually Soviet.

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