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Canadian Military Journal

Engineers of Victory – The problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War

Paul Kennedy
Paul Kennedy
Abstract :

The Second World War was a massive enterprise from any perspective: geography, combatants, casualties, scope, and resources. Any historian attempting to examine it faces a daunting task, and most have taken one of two approaches: a ‘top down’ view taken from the grand strategic, broad narrative or economic perspective; or a ‘bottom up’ view, as reflected in the experience of a particular individual or unit, a key campaign or battle, or the influence of a selected technology. Yale professor of history Paul Kennedy, author of the acclaimed Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, has taken a third approach – he begins at the middle. In Engineers of Victory, Kennedy asks how allied institutions comprised of individuals, organizations, doctrine, and technology were combined to produce successful responses to counter the Axis successes of the early years of the war. His ‘engineer’ context uses a broad definition framed as “…a person who carries through an enterprise through skilful or artful contrivance,” rather than the narrower technological and academic definition usually associated with the term. Appropriately illustrated with maps (to underline concepts) and plates (depicting individuals and technologies), Kennedy refines this definition in the context of the war to the integration of concepts, ideas, people, and technology in order to solve fundamental military problems.

Consistent with this approach, Kennedy confines his study to the middle years of the war, using a case study methodology to examine five key problems confronting the Allies at that time – winning the U-boat war in the Atlantic, winning command of the air over Europe, stopping the Blitzkrieg, conducting amphibious operations, and executing long-range operations in the Pacific – all posed as engineering ‘how to’ challenges. Kennedy’s work analyzes the turnaround decisions and processes that integrated a few motivated people and teams, a fundamental concept or doctrine, and a key technology or technologies that made the decisions work. In other words, this is an intriguing ‘systems level’ approach to fundamental problem solving with respect to one of the 20th Century’s greatest challenges: winning the Second World War. As Kennedy points out in his introduction, the relative weight of resources available to the Allies indicated that they should emerge as victors, but their identification of key problems and an engineered solution to them probably produced victory earlier and at less cost than might otherwise have been the case.

Kennedy relies upon secondary sources, including official histories, case history reviews, campaign histories, personal accounts, and technology studies. He also dips into Internet sources (particularly Wikipedia) and technology-centric publications, such as the platform pamphlets from Osprey Press. For this, his eclectic selection of sources, he makes no apology, as it permits him the span of depth in discussion that ranges from the particular (and personal), to the campaign level that frames his thesis.

Keywords :
Engineers of Victory – The problem solvers who turned the tide in the Second World War

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:26

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:26

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Volume 14, Number 1, - 2014

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