28 October 2012

Reasons why Germany lost WW2

After the war, during the Nuremberg War Trials, the court was shown a film of the German war machine in full production.  Bombs and airplanes being assembled on a production line; a nation revelling in its newfound military confidence.  The spectacle was not only reminiscent of Nazi-era propaganda movies, it probably consisted of them.

On seeing these films Hitler's right hand man, Herman Goering, laughed and expressed aloud proudly: what's wrong with that?  Indeed, why shouldn't a country have a strong military?  Germany's military had after all been eviscerated by the terms of the Versailles Treaty.   What's wrong?  Well it depends on what you do with that military.  A strong military should only be used only for defensive purposes, not offensive ones -- at least that's the Western narrative of WW2. 

Hitler may have been justified morally in his invasion of the Soviet Union as a pre-emptive strike if it could be proven that the Soviets had similar plans to invade Germany.  David Irving's book Hitler's War claims that the Soviet troops captured during Operation Barbarossa possessed detailed maps of Europe all the way to Berlin.  Could these maps be evidence of Stalin's intent to invade western Europe?

Western European powers had been using their militaries in offensive capabilities in overseas colonies for centuries.  The American political class too, wanted to get in on the act of WW2, although the American people they governed largely remained opposed to it.  And broadly speaking, the history of human society is a never ending procession of wars and conquests. 

The question of who is morally justified to commit such acts of war, pre-emptive or otherwise, is largely answered by one's own subjective feelings about the participants involved.  Much like a sports fan boos a penalty he knows his team just conceded, the victors of successful wars usually have nothing but praise for the leaders who instigated them in their name in the first place.

Aside from the moral dimension to the question, was it practically feasible for Hitler to have invaded the Soviet Union?  I think the answer is yes, Hitler could have won WW2.  But like so many other events in human history a number of lessons would have had to have been learnt in advance, lessons that only were realised after the war with the benefit of hindsight.

Hitler's only real chance to win WW2 was by going straight for Moscow, the political heart of Russia, during Operation Barbarossa and taking it by the winter of 1941.  Instead, Hitler got stars in his eyes due to the early successes of the war in the east, and allowed the initial goal to become splintered along a broad front from north to south. 

Although it seemed that Germany had three full summers from 1941 to 1943 in which to take the initiative on the eastern front, in reality from the time Barbarossa stalled at the gates of Moscow the war in the east was lost. 

Hitler's megalomania was such that he couldn't admit to this defeat and made sure the war was prolonged until 1945, long after 1943 when all was clearly lost on all fronts for Germany, thus extracting maximum pain from the situation for all sides including his own. 

In 1945, toward the latter stages of the war, in the final sign of his megalomania, Hitler ordered the destruction of his own country's infrastructure in retaliation for the German people losing the war and not being superior enough for his liking.  Hitler ordered waterworks, electrical substations, railroads, etc., to be blown up in order to leave the Germans as the peasants he thought they were now worthy of becoming.

Hitler said the world would hold its breath when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and it did.  If successful, he would have become the greatest hero Germany, perhaps the world, had ever known.  He would be a modern day Julius Caesar; he would be remembered as such in movies, books and plays for centuries to come; and he almost pulled it off.  But Hitler failed in history's greatest of military gambles.  Here now are my reasons why Germany lost WW2:


1) Hitler underestimated the task of invading the Soviet Union. 

Hitler's one real chance to win the war was during the initial invasion of the Soviet Union.  Had the Nazis have taken Moscow in time, before the winter of 1941, Russia would have been far more disrupted. 

Moscow acted like the hub in the wheel of Russia's railroad system.  By not taking Moscow, Soviet troops could be easily moved in by rail from other parts of the country to defend it.  Rail still worked in the autumn rains while the roads the Nazis relied upon did not.

The Soviets were not the racially inferior military pushovers Hitler portrayed them to be.  They were a strong nation on a par with Germany, and though Stalin was the instigator of the infamous purges of military ranks, he had taken steps to modernise and industrialise the Soviet's military in time for the German onslaught.

The Soviets would mobilise double the divisions the German generals had calculated.  This alone rendered Operation Barbarossa unwinnable.  The Russian military apparatus proved to be so great that it absorbed five million casualties in this initial German onslaught and still repelled it.

2)  During Operation Barbarossa Hitler diverted from Moscow south to the Ukraine. 

The results of the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa were so bedazzling, the Nazis were convinced they were invincible and the focus became splinted to a new ad hoc goal that veered from the original plan.  Hitler split his general's plan for a south army to invade Moscow into central and south.  In August he indulged in a foray south into the Ukraine and the central army became a mere token thrust toward Moscow to placate his generals.

While the southern offensive yielded impressive statistical results in terms of captured Soviet troops it did little to cripple the Soviet regime overall.  The final thrust toward Moscow, when it finally came around, became bogged down in the September mud season.

3) Hitler started the war six weeks too late. 

Mussolini may have inspired the Nazi Caesar-style salute, but that was about all the Italians had to contribute to the Axis alliance's war effort. Germany had to step in after Italy's failed invasions of north Africa, Yugoslavia and Greece.  This delayed Operation Barbarossa by six weeks. 

Hitler had envisioned a four month war with the Soviet Union.  In Hitler's mind the Wehrmacht wouldn't have to face the full force of the cruel Russian winter.  As a result, winter clothing hadn't been prepared.

The dirt roads of Russia turned into mud in the autumn rains and Germany's military machine came to a halt.  This neutralised the German military's number one strength: mobility.  Perhaps Hitler should have built an autobahn, in advance, all the way to Moscow for this not so unforeseeable event.

Update 16/03/2013:  I have recently learned from a documentary that the weather wasn't suitable until late June 1941.  The ground was too wet from rain for the tanks, so the Greek foray didn't really slow them up at all.

4) Hitler failed to persuade Japan not to attack the United States.

This one would have required really extraordinary foresight.  Who could have known at the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, June 22 1941, that by the Russian winter snow-equipped troops redeployed from Siberia would be vital to the defence of Moscow, troops that were freed up from having to defend Siberia as a result of Japan signing a peace treaty with Moscow?  Certainly not Hitler.

Perhaps Germany could have engaged Japan better, in return for Japan not dragging the US into the war. Japan incorrectly regarded the pact between Russia and Germany as genuine rather than as the stalling tactic Hitler intended it to be. 

To their detriment in this regard Germany played its own part in encouraging Japan to make peace with Moscow by signing the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

Japan was much more the equal ally to Germany Hitler had longed for than Italy ever was -- the latter acted more like a millstone around his neck.  Alas, Hitler's racist beliefs would blind him to this fact, and he would never regard the Japanese as his equals, militarily, racially or otherwise, therefore underutilising them.  There was no globe-encompassing coordination between the Tripartite members on a par with that of the allies.


The common factor to the preceding four reasons is related to the nature and timing of the initial attack of Operation Barbarossa.  All the remaining reasons relate to Germany's failure as a result of the multiyear war that ensued from 1942 onward.

After the failure of Barbarossa, Hitler would have been better to have heeded his generals advice to admit to defeat in Russia and withdraw to a more favourable defensive line.  But Hitler was far too arrogant to admit to this defeat and ordered a no-withdrawal policy that ended in doom for Germany.


5) Hitler fought a war on two fronts

Russia's great feat in repelling Operation Barabarossa in the east had been matched in the west by Britain's resolve during the Battle of Britain. 

Britain, although numerically outnumbered, was Germany's match in the air.  It's engineers and technology were amongst the world's leading. 

Goering wrongly advised Hitler that his Luftwaffe would win the Battle of Britain; to the contrary, Britain survived and wasn't neutralised before the commencement of Barbarossa.

Just when the Luftwaffe was gaining the upper hand on the RAF, Hitler again meddled to Germany's detriment by telling Goering to bomb British cities in the retaliation for the British bombing of Germany.  This took the pressure off the RAF long enough for them to recover. 

Hitler's invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion, never came to pass, perhaps because of the prowess of the Royal British Navy, or perhaps because of his own irrepressible drive to invade eastward.
The decision to ignore Britain meant that Germany would be continuously bombed by British, and later by American, warplanes from the west; and eventually a land front formed from 1944. 

6) United States aid to Britain and Russia. 

This factor wasn't that decisive during Operation Barbarossa, therefore US aid wouldn't have detracted from the initial four-month effort that Hitler had envisioned.  But in the multiyear war that ensued this aid increasingly made a critical difference.

7) Hitler didn't commit to the Africa campaign

This would have really meant the abandonment of the lebensraum idea in the east altogether and the avoidance of conflict with the Soviet Union.  Such a decision on Hitler's part would have played right into Stalin's hands -- the latter had hoped that Germany and the western countries would annihilate each other leaving Russia free to dominate central Asia. 

Some suggest Hitler shouldn't have invaded the Soviet Union at all and should have gone for British oil interests in the middle east instead.  But, contrary to some conspiracy theories that Hitler loved England or was a spy for it, Hitler sought to emulate the British Empire, not to displace it.  Besides, Hitler wouldn't need British middle eastern oil, for Russia's lebensraum came with a built-in oil prize in the form of the Caucasus oil fields.

8) The United States entry into the war.

Aside from its already considerable material aid, the actual entry of the US into the war added a whole new dimension.  Although Germany wasn't as much an existential threat to the US as Japan was Churchill somehow persuaded Roosevelt to give priority to the European theatre.

9) Hitler was a racist.   

He could have enlisted the support of millions of Soviets who despised the Bolsheviks in his war effort.  But an opportunity to harness local help, which could have been decisive, was missed because of Hitler's plans in the East.  Hitler's idea for the war in east was one of racist annihilation.  He intended to repatriate or starve the population that existed there to be displaced by a spreading of Germany's densely packed racial core.

He starved the Ukrainians during the first phase of the war in the east and could have continued to have done so with impunity had he repelled Stalin to beyond the Urals as planned. 

If Hitler was successful in Operation Barbarossa this point would have been moot.  In a multiyear war for which Hitler was unprepared being nice to people really would have helped.  But being a nice guy was not in Adolf Hitler's DNA.

10)  Not moving to total war soon enough.  

Hitler finally acceded to Alberts Speer's oversight of the German war machine's production in 1943, precisely the time that Germany clearly started losing the war.  If Hitler had have planned for a multiyear war he would have moved production underground sooner to withstand the western aerial bombardment.

Even then Germany's version of total war wasn't truly total, for by war's end Germany's women still stayed at home as they had at its beginning, tending to domestic chores as per the Nazi vision.   In the case of all of Germany's adversaries women participated in the wartime labour force. The Soviets even had some all-female fighting regiments, some of which (according to Soviet records) served at the Battle of Berlin.

11)  Hitler hesitated at Dunkirk in 1939 and didn't eliminate or capture fleeing allied troops. 

Goering screwed up again by wrongly advising Hitler that his Luftwaffe could eliminate the allied troops trapped at Dunkirk.  The Stukas Goering sent in were outdated technology that hadn't seen tough opposition by that time and without Messerschmitt escorts were slain by British Spitfires and Hurricanes.  The massive seaborne rescue launched from Britain meant that 350,000 allied troops would later come back to haunt the Third Reich. 

12) Hitler chose to emphasise the wrong technologies.

Hitler insisted on meddling in the development of military technology programs, perhaps so that he could be remembered as "the guy" who ingeniously devised such-and-such a crucial weapon that won Germany the war.  But his meddlings were often more counterproductive than not.

Hitler knew he couldn't build a navy as good as the British and yet insisted on confronting them with large battleships like the Bismarck.  With the rise of air power and naval aircraft carriers, control of the sea surface with aircraft carriers became more important, and a similar shift toward submarine warfare under the sea surface, came to influence the war.  Hitler would have been better to avoid the building of warships, focusing instead on U-boat warfare, which had been very successful in the Atlantic.

Hitler insisted that the jet powered Messerschmitt 262 be built as a bomber when it was clearly designed in its outset to be a fighter.

The vengeance rocket weapons V1 and V2, though cutting edge and fearsome, really didn't change the course of the war much.

Among Hitler's other wacky ideas was a mega tank:


Hitler had the quality that was insane enough, or bold enough -- call it what you will -- to take on the Soviet Union. There would be few other leaders who would have had such an ambition.

But unfortunately Hitler also possessed the fatal quality of an inflated view of his own military prowess, perhaps influenced by his time as a corporal in WW1, and insisted on leaving his imprint on every possible aspect to the war one can imagine.

Thanks to his incompetence he made critical errors that lost Germany the war.  Looking back on it, it would have better if, say, one of Hitler's generals had executed him shortly after the conquest of France.

Note: I updated reason 5, and added a final concluding paragraph, on 30 Oct 2012.


  1. This was very useful! Thanks :)