Seesaw – how November ’42 shaped the future
Seesaw, How November ’42 Shaped the Future By late 1942, the world had been fighting World War Two for a long time with no end in sight. November of that year saw campaigns and battles which set the course of the rest of the war. Specific battles, decisions, and actions contributed to the war’s outcome. Those results continue to shape lives around the world.
The author discusses what led up to the battles and campaigns of late 1942, and looks at how specific decisions and their effects are important to today’s world. Moore draws on new and unpublished letters and personal accounts. He also taps a wide range of books, journals, and research. Join the author as he explores personalities known and unknown, pivotal battles and decisions, and underlying reasons and motivations.
The thirty days of November 1942 were the watershed of World War II. The countries that seemed to be winning were knocked from their perch by actions in that month, and they became the war’s losers. Countries which had been losing started winning.
During this month campaigns were initiated and other ongoing campaigns had pivotal battles. These took place with backdrops of each country’s long developing home front plans and preparations for war. Some of these measures were at last coming to fruition and helping the war effort. Some countries had made early decisions which went sour. Those decisions ended up hindering, not helping the war effort. Physical, logistical and manpower preparations were starting to have their effects. Some countries made preparations and measures but cut them short or abandoned them as ineffective, too expensive, or not important enough to pursue.
Early war plans, tactics and materials developed by the Axis nations worked well for them early on. But early in the war, the Allied nations had learned much at the hard school of defeat and retreat. These skills and tactics were hard come by and bought by many valiant dead soldiers and sailors. Their use was starting to counter the early Axis successes.
There were five broad theaters where the pivotal campaigns reached balance in the summer and fall of 1942. The term “balance” means that both sides were fighting as hard as they could but neither could deliver a knockout punch. In fact neither could really budge the other side. To use a playground analogy, both were on a seesaw but both ends were in the air. Neither side could get their side down to get their feet on the ground.
But this period, November 1942, saw movement in the balance. One side, the Allies, was able to start moving the seesaw, start gaining small wins and start gaining momentum. Then they began to gain real advantages, some big and some in smaller less evident ways. The Allies also gained the initiative, the ability to make the opponent react rather than act independently. There was of course action all over the globe in 1942, not just the areas this work will focus on.
This work will focus on five arenas. The first two were in Africa, in Egypt on the east end to the west end countries of Morocco and Algeria. This was two distinct theaters, Egypt and Northwest Africa. The third was Southern Russia centered on the struggle for the city of Stalingrad and the resources of the Caucasus region. The fourth and fifth were in the southwest and south Pacific. There were two distinct theaters: the Papuan peninsula of eastern New Guinea and the southern Solomon Islands some 500 miles east. A daily breakdown of operations in these theaters shows ongoing battles with results about evenly matched. Then one side gains a breakthrough victory.
Throughout history, each war follows a pattern of action, a formula. Wherever the battles are fought, the pattern holds. One side takes actions or steps and their goals are furthered. Then the other side acts, whether reacting or seeking to take the initiative. It takes its own steps and actions to counter the first’s gains and to further its own aims. Action and reaction are played out over time and space. At some point each side has extended itself as far as it can, and the struggle is about evenly balanced, almost stalemated. This can occur fairly quickly, in weeks, or it can take months or even a few years to develop.
There are many cases where one side seemed to be near victory but the other side fought back to stalemate. Then that side goes on to prevail. One example is the Napoleonic Wars: they went on around the world, armies marching, fleets sailing, first the French ascendant, then the rest of Europe allying to ultimately prevail. In the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis’ Confederacy ran rings around the Union for about three years. It took that long for President Lincoln to identify, assemble and organize a team able to capitalize on Union strengths while hammering at Confederate weaknesses. The Union won the war only thirteen months after Lincoln assembled his team. In World War I: Germany came close to scoring a knockout in summer and autumn 1914 with its march through Belgium to northern France and its victories in Russia. But the Russians, French and English held on that fall and fought slowly back. Ultimately the western allies, with American help pushed them back.
At the point of stalemate, the outcome becomes a matter of grit, persistence and luck. The question revolves on who can hold on, who can slug a little harder, who can innovate and out-think the other, in order to win and impose their will. The sides perform a ballet fraught with death, violence, comebacks, determination, and ultimately victory and defeat. Of course it is not as clear cut as two men in a ring hitting each other. In war there are multiple nations pursuing their own national interests over time, with battles, raids, political offensives, economic efforts, and other actions taking place on the battlefield and round the world.
It is easy enough to start a war but not so easy to end one. Once a war starts no one knows who will win, how the peace will look, who will be the big winners and big losers. Every war is an attempt to create the future. At some identifiable time, in this case November 1942, the struggle is in balance and could go in favor of either side. But in order to recognize how the scales were balanced then, it is necessary to look back.