World War II and Technology

The story of Alan Turing and his invention of the first ever computer came to the silver screen in 2014 in the moving biopic THE IMITATION GAME. As the film arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from 9th March 2015, courtesy of STUDIOCANAL, we examine some of the other outstanding war-time technological inventions and advances, and look at how their uses have changed since the war.

The Original Computer
2014 blockbuster THE IMITATION GAME tells the life story of Alan Turing, the mathematician and cryptanalyst who worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park (Britain’s code-breaking centre) during the Second World War. For a time he led Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis and was responsible for creating the Turing Machine, which decrypted the “unbreakable” German Enigma code. The role of the German Enigma machine was to encode and decode encrypted messages to its troops that the Allies would not be able to read. Turing’s machine served as an idealized model for mathematical calculation to decode the encrypted German messages. Turing’s machine was pivotal in cracking intercepted encoded messages and enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic. It is said by some historians that Turing’s work at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two to four years and saved approximately fourteen million to twelve million lives. The later model of computation that Turing called his ‘universal machine’ is considered by some to have been the fundamental theoretical breakthrough that led to the notion of the stored-program computer. Turing’s machine was, in essence, the invention of the modern computer.

Radio Navigation
Before the invention of radio navigation, both the Allies and Axis struggled to accurately direct their military aircrafts in blind bombing runs. The introduction of Gee-H, Oboe and GEE systems gave both forces’ aircrafts increased accuracy and safety when flying in tough conditions. LORAN, the successor to the original navigational system GEE, was used for commercial aircraft navigation until the recent introduction of GPS. However, there is now an argument that LORAN should be re-introduced on commercial and military aircraft as a failsafe for potential GPS failures.

The Jerrycan
One of the most important factors in a successful war strategy is the ability to transport resources quickly and effectively to and from the front line. In World War II, the nations that were able to maximize their efficiency and provide a regular supply of resources to the front line were most successful at equipping their troops and preparing them for battle. Transporting liquid, for example, was vital. During World War II, the Germans perfected the design of the jerrycan in order to transport vast amounts of water and fuel to their soldiers. The German design strengthened the structure with the cross shape, maximised the contents of the can and added the innovative handles that permitted soldiers to carry 2 of them in each hand. Before these innovations, fuel containers used to be impractical and rudimentary. These days, the jerrycan is still used to carry fuels, but it has also been adapted into light-weight designs to carry smaller volumes of liquid, like the plastic milk bottle.

Synthetic Rubber and Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil was first introduced by German scientists in order to account for the extreme shortage of its natural counterpart. In World War II, polyethylene oils were utilized in powering the infamous Luftwaffe air force which caused devastating destruction to the Allies. Synthetic rubber was invented in the US shortly after. The Allied Forces needed synthetic rubber because the Axis controlled the vast majority of natural rubber suppliers by the America scientist Waldo Semon. The need for synthetic resources became vital in World War II, a time when the continent of Europe was divided and resources were tactically withheld and distributed.

The Pressurised Cabin
Pre-war aircraft pilots found it extremely difficult to travel at high altitudes due to the freezing temperatures, high pressures and lack of oxygen. The solution utilized before the war was a simple oxygen mask, which needless to say, failed numerous times. In 1943 the US introduced the pressurised air cabin, a breakthrough invention that allowed pilots to travel safely at high altitudes and revolutionised air transportation forever more. Pressurised air cabins are still used on commercial airlines today, allowing for safe air travel around the globe.

Atomic Power
When scientists first realized the potential of atomic power, it was angled towards the creation of weapons of mass destruction. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Manhattan project was successful in developing the world’s first atomic bombs. His successor, Harry Truman, was the first to actually use atomic bombs, destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in effect ending the war. In the following 49 years the USA and USSR embarked on an intense and extremely expensive Cold War arms race, wherein they competed in developing the most destructive nuclear weapons. Whilst there are still contentious issues surrounding nuclear weapons in today’s world, much legislation has been made to prevent their use and development. In the modern world atomic power is mostly utilised as a one of the cheapest sources of electricity, with 435 nuclear power reactors in operation across 31 countries. Despite this, the safety and environmental influence of nuclear power remains a concerning issue.

THE IMITATION GAME arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from 9th March, courtesy of STUDIOCANAL