World War II: Tactics, Weapons and the Holocaust

The Second World War was fought amid evolving technologies and ideologies, and as such it became one of the bloodiest wars in history. Total war put civilians at risk for the first time, and new weapons like German u-boats and the unprecedented use of air warfare facilitated mass casualties. However, the concentration camp was the Nazis’ worst weapon. They kept marginalized groups in horrible conditions, and many of those who survived the camps were then killed in gas chambers in the Holocaust. In Part 6 of our series on WWII, explores some of the tactics and weapons used during the Second World War.

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History of World War II: Tactics and Weapons

A number of new technologies and ideologies came forth during this battle that made war deadlier than ever before. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning about the tactics used during World War II.

Total War and Air Warfare

The new idea of total war put civilians at risk during battle, as opposed to simply military personnel. Also, a newfound importance was placed on air warfare by both the Axis and Allied countries, though each approached it differently. The Nazi German Air Force was called the Luftwaffe, and was successful early in the war.


For the first two years of the battle, they successfully employed blitzkrieg operations to attack and decrease the morale of their enemies. Localized firepower was supported by land and air teams in highly coordinated strikes. Because these assaults were based on speed and surprise, they were meant to terrify and disorient adversaries. The Germans even used sirens to add further shock value.

German Advantage

The blitzkrieg was meant to force adversaries to make mistakes and to disable their capacity to defend themselves due to fear and confusion. The Germans used this to their advantage while invading regions like France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940.

Failure of the Luftwaffe

Despite these successes, the Luftwaffe failed to work strategically and eventually ran out of gasoline. This ultimately caused them to fail.

Kriegsmarine and U-Boats

Meanwhile, naval warfare became an important threat due to the use of u-boats by the German Navy, or Kriegsmarine. These submarines efficiently damaged Allied shipping, and were used to sink more than three thousand Allied ships. The main weapon used by u-boats was the torpedo, and developments throughout the war made these vessels even more deadly.

Concentration Camps

Another tactic used by the German Nazi Party to eliminate dissenters and those they deemed to be inferior was the concentration camp. Though these camps existed even in the early 1930s, the Nazis greatly enlarged them during the early war years. Prisoners held in these camps were deemed guilty without any legal process. These included Jews, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political prisoners, criminals, communists and homosexuals, as well as the mentally and physically disabled.

Terrible Conditions

The conditions in these death camps were horrible, and many of those detained died from disease or malnutrition. Meanwhile, others were used as slaves, for medical experiments or simply tortured.

The Holocaust

By 1942, the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was implemented by the Nazis: they began rounding up and murdering the Jewish population of Europe in mass executions. Many of those already in concentration camps were sent to gas chambers. This massacre was then called The Holocaust.

Mass Extermination

The existence of these camps was only confirmed in the spring of 1945 when Allied troops uncovered the truth. Up to that point, most people did not believe something so horrible could happen, despite rumors about the camps. Estimates suggest 11 million people were kept in concentration camps by the Nazis, and 6 million of those killed were Jews.

Kamikaze Attacks

The Empire of Japan also used extreme wartime tactics. Kamikaze attacks began in October 1944 and were suicide missions during which pilots would attempt to take out as many Allied military ships as possible. The aircraft that took part in these attacks were normally equipped with bombs and extra gasoline in order to maximize the resulting explosion. The Japanese decided that the loss of their equipment and pilots was worth destroying a large number of enemy ships. The worst of these attacks resulted in five thousand U.S. Navy deaths at Okinawa. In total, roughly 300 Allied warships were damaged.

The Atomic Bomb

Another of the terrifying tactics to be used in World War II was the atomic bomb. The nuclear device was developed mainly by the United States, with help from the United Kingdom and Canada. When the two bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, it caused Japan to finally surrender and end the war. While these extreme actions were widely criticized, they were just one part of what made this the bloodiest war in history.

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