Mathematics and War


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Mathematics and War 1917-1945 : 

Mathematics and War 1917-1945 Class Discussion Historical Perspective The role of mathematics in military work in an attempt at an international perspective

Introduction and general discussion : 

Introduction and general discussion ”Scientific war” ”Mathematics war” Growing competition between nations Military threat Political situation Technological developments Social issues

Military technologies, requiring usage of mathematics: : 

Military technologies, requiring usage of mathematics: Aeronautics Ballistics Rockets Atomic bomb

Mathematical techniques, used in a connection with military technologies: 

Mathematical techniques, used in a connection with military technologies numerical analysis cryptology operations research statistical sequential analysis prediction theory control theory


Germany Strong German traditions of mathematical eductaion of engineers at Technical Universities Foundation of advanced aerodynamic research centers, main consumer of applied mathematicians In 1917 – Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt –AVA (Aerodynamic Proving Ground) In 1925 – Institute for Fluid Mechanics

”Mathematical war research” was organised by: 

”Mathematical war research” was organised by Governmental-military institutes Industrial-military institutes Research at universities ”self-mobilised” mathematicians at universities

The insanity of the Nazi’s regime : 

The insanity of the Nazi’s regime 1933 – The law for the restoration of the Career Civil Service Nazis policy towards the “non-Aryans” and Communists Public burning of books of “non-Aryans”

Victims of the Nazis: 

Victims of the Nazis Dismissal of Jewish professors Many scientists emigrated to USA, England, or to other countries. Western countries benefited intellectually, but there was not enough universities that needed the refuges.

Soviet Union: 

Soviet Union Strong tradition of applied mathematics Strong traditions in mathematical foundations of aerodinamics Language and political problems in communicating with the West Close collaboration of pure and applied mathematics at Moscow University Foundation of the Soviet rocketry Propagandistic role of aeronautics Superiority of German military aviation

Selected moments: 

Selected moments 1918 Central aero-hydronamic institute in Moscow, director Zukovsky 1922 Scientific Research Institute for Mathematics and Mechanics in Petrograd (NIMM) 1941 Mathematicians of University of Moscow were gradually evacuated to Turkmenistan. In 1943 they were returned back to Moscow.

The attack on the Moscow Mathematical Society: 

The attack on the Moscow Mathematical Society Marxists accused the President of the Society D. Egorov, that he is sabotaging the communist’s regime. The Luzin Affair: He was accused that he was working against the communists, and the press fabricated several articles against him. He could defend himself, using a strong international support.

Great Britain: 

Great Britain 1939 Operational Analysis –starts at Royal Air Force Command Some fields of application, methods Cryptology-logic, coding theory, statistics –A.Turing Meteorology-finite difference Elasticity- relaxation method


Technical superiority connected with the cryptology Different notion of ”applied mathematics”, not including engineering mathematics Ideas underlying computers, but lack of economical preconditions for it Highly personalised style of leading research

United States: 

United States Many new emigrants America became the superpower of the scientific world. Europe’s science lost it’s leading role. Lack of academic applied mathematics, MIT was the only exception Influence of British statistics Industrial research at Bell labs Superior conditions

Selected moments: 

Selected moments 1915-foundation of NACA ( National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics) 1931- Bush’s differential analyzer - ballistics 1938 – Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground 1943- Atom bomb project


Fields of application of Mathematics Ballistics : finite differences, calculus of variations – Moulton, Bliss (1926), diff. equations –Karman (1936) Operations research : Game Theory and Statistics – von Neumann &Ph. Morse Aeronautics – statistic turbulence, complex functions Operations research – various methods


Discussion - Reference List Siegmund-Schiltze, R. (2003). Military work in Mathematics 1914-1945: an attempt at an international perspective. In B.Boos-Bavnbek & J. Høyrup (Eds.), Mathematics and war (pp. 23-82). Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser Verlag.

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