Strategic Lifelines: Harnessing Logistics Lessons from WWII to COVID-19


It was a hazy, foggy autumn morning in 1991. The frigid air filled my lungs, and my body and mind were plagued with doubt, worry, and anxiety. For the last 30 minutes, we had waited for the enemy to emerge from the fog and attack our positions.

My commanding officer approached and instructed me, “Don’t waste ammunition; shoot sparingly.” I asked for clarity, even as the enemy’s approach became more audible in the fog.

He said that each bullet now cost $5, and my 1,500 rounds needed to last for a few days. At that point, I realised my MG 42 machine gun was nearly useless; rounds were too expensive, and logistics were collapsing.

This episode showed me that battles are won not just by soldiers, but also by logistics that maintain a consistent flow of supplies, equipment, and weaponry.

Later, at the Academy where I studied intelligence, we discovered how important logistics were throughout WWII, particularly in Britain.

Proper logistics planning is critical, particularly for island nations. This lesson is still important today, as we confront disruptions such as those produced by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Historical Context – Pre-COVID Logistics

Prior to the epidemic, global logistics ran with extraordinary efficiency.

Goods flowed effortlessly across borders, and supply networks were optimised for just-in-time delivery.

This extremely efficient system, however, was equally vulnerable, with little space for unanticipated disturbances.

Companies used predictability to reduce inventory costs and increase profits. Logistics networks were the backbone of global trade, allowing commodities to be transported quickly and affordably around the world.

WWII German Submarine Warfare

During WWII, Germany’s U-boat campaign sought to cut off Britain’s supply routes.

These submarines patrolled the Atlantic, sinking commercial ships and forming a blockade.

The plan was to starve Britain of resources and force a surrender.

The impact was severe, resulting in rationing and tremendous hardship. To confront the threat, the Allies needed to innovate and adapt, creating new methods and technology.

Convoys, improved sonar, and air cover finally reduced the U-boat danger, but the time exposed the vulnerabilities of supply routes that were targeted for disruption.

Comparison of Disruptions


Both pre-COVID logistics and WWII submarine warfare focused on crucial supply lines.

In both cases, the goal was to interrupt the regular flow of products, resulting in shortages and instability.

The impacts were widespread, affecting not only the immediate beneficiaries but the entire network that relied on those supplies.

Businesses experienced production halts, increased costs, and uncertainty in planning and operations.


The approaches and technologies varied greatly. WWII saw physical destruction of ships, but COVID-19’s disruption was due to systematic failure.

The magnitude also differed: the war’s influence was limited to the Atlantic, whereas the pandemic disrupted global commerce networks.

However, both scenarios revealed flaws and necessitated a reassessment of logistical tactics.

Modern disruptions have also shown reliance on global suppliers, complicated supply chains, and the interconnectedness of international trade.

Strategic Implications for Island Nations

Vulnerability of Island Nations

Island nations are especially vulnerable to logistics disruptions.

Their remoteness forces them to rely heavily on imports for necessities like food, medicine, and gasoline. When supply chains fail, the consequences are rapid and deep.

Businesses are facing delays, increased costs, and possibly closures.

Consumers face shortages, and prices for goods might increase, resulting in economic instability.

COVID-19 Impacts:

The pandemic highlighted how unstable these supply chains were.

Many island nations experienced shortages and delays.

Essential products became scarce, and prices rose dramatically.

The interruption highlighted the need for more resilient and diverse supply chains.

Businesses had to adapt rapidly, looking for new suppliers and routes, raising inventory levels, and investing in digital tools to better manage logistics.

Strategic Responses

In response to these vulnerabilities, island states have begun to implement strategic measures.

Some of the efforts being taken include diversifying supply sources, strengthening local production capabilities, and storing necessary items.

Investments in technology, such as advanced logistics software and automated warehouses, are also increasing.

These steps aim to strengthen the logistics network to resist future interruptions, assuring business continuity and economic stability.

Lessons Learned and Future Strategy

Adaptation and Resilience

The logistics business has had to adapt rapidly.

Companies are now focusing on developing more robust supply chains to resist interruptions. This includes increased transparency, improved risk management, and more adaptable sourcing techniques.

Businesses are also investing in technology like artificial intelligence and blockchain to increase supply chain visibility and efficiency.

The emphasis is on striking a balance between efficiency and resilience, ensuring that supply networks can adapt to changes and recover quickly after disruptions.

Strategic Planning for Island Nations

Strategic planning is critical for island nations’ long-term sustainability.

This entails not only strengthening logistics infrastructure but also encouraging regional collaboration and trade agreements.

Policies that promote local industry and limit reliance on a single supply source are critical.

Technology will also play an important role in risk prediction and mitigation.

Furthermore, developing strategic reserves and supporting local production of key items might serve as a buffer against global supply chain disruptions.

Long-Term Social Impacts

Personal Reflection: Living With Shortages

Having lived through the early 1980s shortages, I saw how grey and black markets emerged.

I recall standing in line with my dad for 10-12 hours only to get a kilo of coffee or cooking oil.

Despite a restrictive system, the collapse of communist society became clear.

The fury resulted from the fact that our own families were on the verge of survival, not what others had.

Economic Stability and Growth

Logistics disruptions can have a significant long-term impact on economies.

Persistent supply chain challenges can lead to higher prices, slower economic development, and lower investment.

Businesses may experience increased operational costs, resulting in lower profitability and probable layoffs.

For island governments, maintaining stable and efficient logistics is critical to economic stability and progress.

Public Health and Safety

During a crisis, disrupted logistics can have an influence on public health and safety.

Shortages of medical supplies, food, and other necessities can exacerbate public health problems and erode communal confidence.

Ensuring resilient supply networks is critical for sustaining public health and safety, particularly in remote and isolated areas.

Social and Political Stability

Long-term interruptions can cause social and political instability.

Public outrage over shortages and high pricing can spark unrest and undermine trust in institutions.

Governments and corporations must collaborate to ensure supply networks are resilient and capable of providing critical goods, hence preserving social and political stability.

Lesson to be Learned

The lessons of WWII and the COVID-19 epidemic underline the vital need for strong logistical strategy. These teachings are more so relevant to island nations.

By learning from the past and adjusting to the future, they may create more resilient systems that maintain stability and security even during times of disaster.

Logistics may not be a glamorous subject, but its impact on our lives, economies, and society is significant.

In a world where the unexpected can disrupt the status quo, resilient and adaptive logistics are critical.

This post was written by Mario Bekes