The American Military from 1900 to 2000

The United States military has changed drastically from the turn of the 20th century to the present. What began as traveling on foot or a horse turned into battleships, airplanes and tanks. Weapons like the musket and knife have evolved to a machine gun and pistols, from cannon balls to smart bombs. The type of fighting has changed from lining up and firing to guerrilla war where the enemy is anywhere. The United States has been at the head of technological advances that has led us into the 21st century with weapons and machines people could have only dreamed of at the turn of the 20th century. Almost every aspect of the military and war has changed except for the heart and dedication the soldiers have shown through every conflict and battle.
America has gone from revolution for freedom to gaining land from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean to becoming a sort of police man for the whole world, having soldiers stationed around the globe. The jobs have also changed and so have the enemies. Troops are no longer just trying to find enemies from a country or countries, now the enemy is everywhere, in any country. Islamic terrorists have cells all over the world and the soldiers have to find them before they strike the United States. This new century will only show the world many more of unbelievable things that we could have never imagined even 20 years ago, and it will not stop. The past century changed the world for better and for worse. The pace of technological advances and the change of the face of war from the 20th century can be shown throughout the few major wars the world has seen. In a matter of 100 years almost every aspect of war has changed.

At the turn of the century, the United States was coming off an impressive victory against Spain, taking islands in the Pacific and in the Caribbean. A new fleet of battleships, named the Great White Fleet paraded around the world, touting the new strength of America. Tensions were flaring in Europe, America did not know in a few short years they would be involved in the Great War. Technology was advancing at a fast pace. The edged weapons were now a thing of the past and rifled artillery was put in as a replaced. Weapons such as the howitzer were guns that could shoot large bullets over 20 kilometers away. Other new innovations such as the tank and grenade also proved to be helpful in the upcoming war (Military Technology). During this time chemical weapons were also starting to be mass produced. Dangerous gases like mustard gas and chlorine were being used on troops in Europe. This, obviously, led to better gas masks for soldiers in battle (Technological escalation during WWI, Chemical weapons).

World War I introduced to the world a new, deadly style of warfare. Trench warfare is when soldiers build large trenches and stay in there so the enemy can not get to them. The enemy would rush the trench and many of them would die trying. Grenades were used to try and destroy the troops in the trench but it was very hard to not get hurt attempting to come near a trench. A new technique, called sapping, allowed troops to listen in on the enemy’s conversations. A “clay-kicker” would tunnel to the enemy trench and plant a listening device under the position. This was a very dangerous job for if the enemy caught the clay-kicker he would surely be blown up (Technological escalation during WWI, Command and control).

During the war both sides started to use the air as a weapon and a spy device. In the early 1900s, hot air balloons were used as observation balloons. They could observe troop and artillery positions, and also communicate with other allies (FIU, Balloons and Airships, Balloons for war and sport). In the beginning of the war air spotters did not try to harm the enemy air spotter, but by the end of the war they were using anything they could, from machine guns to spears to kill the enemy in a balloon, making this job very deadly (Technological escalation in WWI, Air warfare).

Deaths still piled up during the war because the communication methods available were very easily intercepted. Air contact patrols would fly over to friendly command posts and drop a message out, in code. It would have to go over enemy lines to get to the position it needed and there is no doubt they were shot at and some shot down, leaving the message for the enemy. No matter what happened though, casualties remained high. Because of muzzle flashes the enemy could target guns without even firing his weapon. Guns were being taken out at a rate of 85% to 90% in the first minutes of any battle (Technological escalation of WWI, Command and control).

With all the artillery being wiped out so quickly, increased production of guns was not a surprise. By now, economies were in direct competition to produce more guns and bullets than what was wiped out in battle. Also, counter-battery weapons were being mass produced. Weapons such as tear gas and other shells were produced and feared by other countries on battle field. This led them to keep their gas masks on, making them less flexible in battle with their new guns (Technological escalation of WWI, War of attrition)

By 1917, the problem of trenches, mud, and chemical weapons was soon to be over. The invention of the tank solved many of these problems. This huge, frightening vehicle could only travel at 2 miles an hour but it could roll through almost anything and protect all that were in the cabin.

On November 11, 1918 the 1918 Armistice was signed, leaving Germany to take the valuable lessons they learned back to the homeland. Mobile units and machines now became a very important part of the war and Germany knew this. Twenty years later Germany would master this as they start a new World War.

Defense was not considered the key to victory in World War II. Speed and mobility of offense was thought to be the way to go. Many new upgrades to tanks and ships would prove to help to make this new war just as bloody as the last.
Tank production began in 1940 for the Stuart Series tanks. It started with the M1 and M2 combat cars but the tanks that saw combat started with the M2. Starting with the M3 a 37mm gun was placed on the tank and the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage placed a M2 or M3 37mm howitzer on a M5 hull. Production for these tanks skyrocketed during the war going from about 325 M2s in 1940 to over 4000 M5s in 1942 (American tank production of WWII, Stuart Series).

The Stuart Series was a series of light tanks used by the United States. Along with these lighter tanks, the U.S. produced medium tanks and heavy tanks. Medium tanks such as the Medium M4 Sherman originally carried a low-velocity 75mm gun which was replaced by a 76mm anti-tank gun or a 105mm howitzer. The Sherman hull was used in the production of the M10 and M30 tanks and also for the M7 Howitzer Motor Carriage which had a self-propelled artillery piece (American tank production of WWII, Medium tanks). The one and only heavy tank the United States produced during the war was the Pershing heavy tank. It was used mostly during the end of the war and was equipped with 90mm M3 gun (Heavy tanks). These groups of tanks let our troops move quickly and with great gun power.

The air was also utilized to the fullest during World War II. Planes and jets would be able to go far distances to drop bombs on enemy territory and could also take down other enemy aircraft. One of the most notable planes was the B-17 Flying Fortress. This plane was noted because he could take damage and still complete its mission without losing any men. B-17s could hold almost 3 tons of bombs and were used to bomb targets anywhere it needed. It also had 11 machine guns so it could fend off enemies (B-17 Flying Fortress).

The air was also used for shipping cargo and troops long distances. For this responsibility the C-47 was called on. This aircraft is widely known as the most significant transport aircraft ever. It would be able to fly far distances and carry heavy loads with little problem. During the end of the war this plane was used also to drop paratroopers. It also replaced the train as the chosen means of transportation (C-47).

World War II was also notorious for the fighter planes. One of the most important and popular planes during this era is the P-51 Mustang. Fifteen thousand six-hundred and eighty six of these planes were built during World War II. They were excellent for shooting down enemy planes in flight and also were successful with many ground targets. A total of 4,950 enemy aircraft were destroyed by the Mustang and another 4,131 targets on the ground were hit during World War II by this plane. After all the tweaking the final version of the Mustang could go over 490mph making it very fast for it’s time (Angelucci).

The United States also had many new and perfected weapons for the Second World War. Guns could now fire bullets over 240mm and launch rockets long distances. The creations of anti-aircraft guns also help take down many bombers and fighter planes from above. Machine guns could now fire rounds quickly and efficiently, killing many in a short period of time (US Weapon Production 1942-45).

Probably the most popular piece of World War II and the most deadly was the atomic bomb. The United States heard Germany was attempting to build this atomic bomb and quickly started the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was a top secret project that was ordered to build a nuclear bomb during World War II. The idea was to use enriched uranium in a bomb. During the time of the project about $2 billion dollars was spent to invent this new, deadly bomb. The money spent paid off in the lives it saved when the two atomic bombs were dropped. One on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki left the towns destroyed and thousands dead in a split second. A day after the second bombing, Japan offered it surrender to the allies. This saved many of our troops lives but it quickly became the most prized and deadly weapon ever known to man (Bellis).

After World War II, the United States and the USSR began an arms race known as the Cold War. The two super powers of the world both tried to have the biggest and best nuclear arsenal and this almost led to the extinction of our civilization. This “war” lasted almost 5 decades, leaving an “Iron curtain” (Winston Churchill) separating the east from the west until about 1990. Through 2 major conflicts and many other small operations the battle of good versus evil almost erupted in all out nuclear war.

During this time however many new advances also were shown in the fighter jets, tanks, and new guns that helped us contain the Vietnamese and Koreans, and keeps advancing today. Today the United States has the most advanced military in the world and there is no end in sight to the ability and new technology we can produce.

The most recent conflicts in our time are the Gulf Wars in Iraq. In these wars we have proven our strength by taking out Iraq in a matter of weeks. With such weapons as the M1A1 Abrams or the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the U.S. gets the job done.
One of the best weapons we have in our arsenal is the tomahawk cruise missile. The missile is fired off a ship or submarine and finds its target with the advanced TERCOM guidance method. Each missile has memory and a picture of its target. As it twists through the sky it takes pictures and when it finds the target the computer gives the order to hit it. It may also carry many small “bomblets” that can fire at 3 to 4 targets instead of one. The accuracy of this weapon is un-paralleled, only missing 15 times out of 297 (Gulf war weapons, Tomahawk missile, description).

Another new piece of our arsenal is the F-117A stealth. This was a secret plane that the air force did not admit to until 6 years after using it. Looking like a black delta, it is designed so it is not seen by radar and hardly by the human eye (gulf war weapons, F-117A stealth).

Global Positioning System is the most advanced in our military. This system simply allows the military to locate and track almost anything on the planet. Using a system of satellites in space it can find the exact longitude and latitude of the user. During the war many vehicles could radio their exact positions to each other allowing better tactics to take place since no one had to have fixed markers on the ground (gulf war weapons, gps).

The change in the military for 100 years is very drastic for such a short period of time. The change of strategies and the arsenal of the United States could have never been projected in 1900. The weapons and technology we have now could have not foreseen by anyone. We now have the power to locate anything, anywhere in the world and blow it up without risking thousands of lives. Computers have made it easy to attack an enemy with much less risk than ever before. Being the most advanced country in the world and having the best arsenal in history allows the United States to protect itself and neighbors from attack of any rogue state or terrorist organization better than ever before. The technology is always growing and getting better every day. New ideas for weapons and machines never get old. As the new century starts one can only imagine what advances there will be by the next century.

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