World War II: Why Germans Lost and Allies Won
World War II began with Germany’s attack on Poland in 1939 and ended with the attack on Japan’s Hiroshima in 1945 with the atomic bomb. Several battles were fought during these six years, which led to the Allies’ success and the defeat of the Axis Powers. There are some causes of Germany’s defeat in World War II. Among these causes are some of the very wrong decisions of Hitler, which he took only because of his extreme overconfidence. Many writers are of the view that not accepting failure in Russia was Hitler’s mistake. Hitler’s big fault was that he believed in complete domination and complete destruction.
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The reason behind why it took the Allies so long to win the war was the late entry of the United States into the war. When the war started, the US had maintained a neutral stance, but as Japan stroked its Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, it decided to join the forces of the Allies. The German reaction to the troubles Britain posed was not to reconsider fundamental assumptions but instead to reject there was a problem. Given his ideological approaches, Hitler’s focus almost instantly after the defeat of France had turned to the Soviet Union. But the military’s command had moved in that direction even faster than Hitler.
It was early July 1940 when German military commanders planned the invasion of the Soviet Union. The commanders who took part in the planning included the army’s commander in chief, Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, and chief of staff General Franz Halder. They gave it the name Operation Barbarossa. According to Stolfi, “Hitler conceived the invasion of the Soviet Union as a complete surprise, out of peace into war overwhelming strength, obsessed by the ambitious national socialists’ goal to colonize large areas of European Russia” (Stolfi, 1993). Given the Luftwaffe’s focus on continental war, it is not surprising that its chief of staff, General Hans Jeschonnek, would comment upon the invasion of the Soviet Union, “At last, a proper war!” (Gitelman, 1997).
Underlying the Barbarossa plan was the German leader’s ideological crusade to overcome the Jewish-Bolshevist state and implement the racial cleansing of Europe. From the beginning of the invasion, regular army personnel vigorously and enthusiastically cooperated in the carnage of Jews and other undesirables along with Russia’s educated people. Hitler’s political endeavor was to create a population of slaves to do their German conquerors’ bidding.
As an order of the day, Panzer Group 4 commanding General Erich Hoeppner stated: “The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity …. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared.” (Forster, 1981). But that German approach only served to devastate all possibility of politically undermining the Soviet Union’s rulers, as had occurred in World War I. Stalin’s rule, though hardly popular at home, was as a result able to rally the Soviet people against an even more odious enemy and fight a war of popular liberation.
If the tactical and political theories of Operation Barbarossa were not bad enough, the operational planning and implementation were equally faulty. Operational quality is not just a matter of battleground execution but also a matter of attitude regarding the nature of one’s enemy and logistics. In the case of the former, Germany failed to seize both the numbers and stubbornness of its Soviet opponent. As Halder said in early August 1941: “The whole situation shows more and more clearly that we have underestimated the colossus of Russia …. We have already identified 360 [Soviet divisions]. The divisions are admittedly not armed and equipped in our sense, and tactically they are badly led. But there they are, and when we destroy a dozen, the Russians simply establish another dozen” (Parker, 2000).
Highlighting the extent of Germany’s folly is the fact that logisticians had warned that the advance into the Soviet Union would overrun its supply lines by the time it reached two-thirds of the distance to Leningrad in the north, to Smolensk in the center and midway down the Don in the south. Halder’s warning was not heard, while planners merely assumed their forces would destroy the Red Army in the border areas and then advance unopposed into the heart of Russia.
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In October 1941, the logisticians again expressed the concern that the army faced two vital choices: either bring up heavy clothing and winter-weight fuels and set up supply dumps suitable to winter weather, or bring up ammunition and fuel to support the advance on Moscow. It was not complicated to guess the choice German commanders made, nor the results: soldiers shivered in gabardine uniforms, while their vehicles’ gearboxes froze solid (Overy, 1997).
The defeat of the Germans in front of Moscow only exposed the operational and tactical failures of the campaign against the Soviet Union. Some more strategic blunders soon followed. One of them was his declaration of war against the United States only after four days of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While Hitler apparently never bothered to consult his senior military leaders — many of whom he was sacked for the troubles in the east — there is little evidence they would have called for an alternative course.
The navy’s command, for one, had been calling upon Hitler to declare war on the United States since midsummer. When Hitler asked his military staff in East Prussia whether anyone knew where Pearl Harbor was, not a single officer was able to locate the base on the globe — surprising strategic and geographic lack of knowledge for people planning to conquer the world (Overy, 1997).
Intelligence failures were also played an important role in Germany’s ultimate defeat. For instance, as the Allies successively broke Germany’s most important codes, its military commanders remained unaware. In fact, the Germans were amazingly ignorant of their enemies. The Soviets were able to disguise practically every one of their major offensives from 1942 to the end of the war through the clever use of deception operations; a major factor in their success was continued German contempt for those subhumans on the opposing side of the Eastern Front.
Matters were not good also on the Western Front, where the Allies executed a series of complicated deception operations to convince the Germans the great French amphibious invasion would come at Pas de Calais. Even after the Allies battled their way ashore in Normandy, trickery operations continued to persuade the OKW the main landing was yet to occur at Pas de Calais (Overy, 1997). Well before the happenings of 1944, it should have been clear to Germany the war was lost.
But the military command, its back covered by a regime that ensured the complete obedience of its people, fought on to the bitter end. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel who after the war was blamed by many German generals for not understanding policy, had perceptively prepared for the Allied assault on the basis that if the Wehrmacht failed to stop the landing itself, the war was irreversibly lost. He was right; in fact, Rommel had a far better grab of a plan than did his critics.
Forster, Jurgen. (1981) The Wehrmacht and the War of Extermination against the Soviet Union. Yad Vashem Studies, 14.
Gitelman, Zvi Y. (1997) Bitter legacy: confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, Publisher: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
Hansen, Randall (2009) Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-1945, Publisher: Doubleday, Canada.
Overy, Richard (1997) Why the Allies Won, Publisher: W.W. Norton, New York Parker.
Geoffrey (2000) The Cambridge illustrated history of warfare: the triumph of the West, Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Stolfi, Russel H. S., (1993) Hitler’s panzers east: World War II reinterpreted, Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma.