Monday, October 29, 2012

What If?
A comment on a What If? Nazis winning Scenario

German Tiger Tank in the Snow

The game of what if? is a popular one. In a forum at I read a possible scenario about Hitler winning World War I. Here is that post and my comments on this idea.1 The post I am replying to is indented. My remarks are un-indented. The comments are has I wrote them aside from a conclusion and added references.
I would like some opinions from everyone that knows a lot about the Second World War.
There has always been the question of 'what if' Germany won World War Two? When I first thought about this, I asked myself, "Well could Germany have won? Realistically.." The more I get to thinking about it, I believe Hitler could have won if he had done a few things differently.
1. Adolf Hitler should have let his generals call the shots. Let them mobilize troops when and where they needed them, as well as allow the Wermacht to retreat and regroup if need be.
After the Second World war, many of the surviving German generals in interviews and in their memoirs blamed Hitler for losing the war. They talked about "Lost Victories" and such.

Their position boiled down to "If it wasn't for Hitler, we would have won the war for him!". And sad regret that they did not do so. This surviving memoir literature has been shown to be self deceiving and frankly frequently full of lies. It frankly massively distorted the real story. One of things ignored was just how much many German Generals agreed with and accepted Nazi beliefs and "morality".2

In point of fact Hitler was more responsible for Germany's Run of victories early in the war than any other single person, and that after December 1941 only a miracle could have given Germany victory. The German generals complained mightily after the War about Hitler refusing withdrawals etc, carefully ignoring the withdrawls Hitler did agree too and the fact that on many occasions Hitler had support from generals for his refusal to withdraw.3

Many German generals after the war down played and ignored and in fact denied after the war the fact that they were complicit up to their eyeballs in the Nazi regime.

In trial after trial they lied under oath about their involvement in atrocities. What the they also ignored was that so many of the Generals were the recipients of massive secret monthly payments, i.e, bribes in return for their loyalty.4

It became convenient after the war to blame Hitler for losing it. Hitler being dead could not deny it. The simple fact is that Hitler more than any single person was responsible for the success of the German military in 1939-1941. After that victory was impossible. Defeat could only be delayed not averted after that. The German generals, most of them, stayed loyal to the regime right to the end mainly because in the end they shared a similar belief system to the Nazi regime. That they were dragging Germany into the abyss didn't appear to be a huge problem for them. (The July 1944 coup attempt was the effort of small minority.) The German generals after the war basically wanted to have their cake and eat too.5
2. Hitler should have never gotten himself into a war on two fronts. He actually had a war on three fronts during the height of the war; West Europe, East Europe/Russia and the Middle East/North Africa. He spared Britain and turned to the East, leaving the Western front vulnerable to an allied invasion.
Hitler could not get at Britain, having failed in the Battle of Britain. Further despite having control of continental Europe he did not have a fleet capable of getting at Britain. He was also embarrassingly dependent on the Soviet Union for certain essential raw materials. More specifically oil. He had nothing remotely capable at sea of removing the British navy. So long as Britain was supported by the USA final victory over Britain looked remote. Then it had been the dream of the Pan German lobby since the late 19th century to capture "living space" in the east. A Geo-political fantasy Hitler shared, with murderous additions.6

Many of the German generals shared the dream of capturing "living space" and virtually all thought that the Soviet Union would be disposed of in the few months. The staff planning Barbarrossa thought it extremely unlikely the campaign would last into winter. If Hitler underestimated the Russians so did the great majority of German generals.7

The option of concentrating on Britain was considered but dropped on the grounds it would take far too long and would enable the Soviet Union to become a real danger aside from being basically unworkable and useless so long as the USA supported Britain with economic aid. This wasn't just Hitler's opinion it was the opinion of the German general staff.8

Here is what I think Hitler should have done, if he were going to have any chance at conquering Europe, Russia and part of Africa. I would like to hear your battle plan for Germany too, what you think they should have done to win the war...

Hitler should have gone East first. I don't think France or Britain would have bothered intervening if Germany and the Soviet Union went to war. Especially if Hitler could get Italy and Japan to attack Russia with him. I think the Japanese would be willing to attack Russia from the Pacific, if the Germans and Italians invaded the Soviet union through Europe.

Hitler could have waited until the until the Spring of 1940, to avoid getting stuck in a Russian winter. By the Wermacht and Luftwaffe could have built up a massive force. Italy could send troops to Germany, where they would disguise the movements of Italy and Germany doing "war games". It may raise a red flag to the Soviets but if Italy could mobilize a few hundred thousand men in a week, there would be no real time for the Soviet Union to react.
As mentioned by others Poland was in the way. Such an attack could only have been made by conquering Poland first. Secondly Italy was not the slightest bit interested in attacking Russia. Mussolini wanted to dismantle the French and British empires in the Middle East; attacking Russia would not further any goals that Mussolini had. Mussolini in fact joined Hitler at the tail end of the French campaign when he hoped that the French and British Colonial empires would be ripe for plucking. An invasion of Russia interested Mussolini not at all.9

The fact is the conquest of western Europe gave Germany immense resources and enabled Hitler to massively build up his forces. Any army that Hitler would have built up by the Spring of 1940 would have much smaller than what was hurled against Russia in 1941. The result would have been a much quicker German defeat in 1940 than was in fact the case. Further Hitler would have had to leave forces in the west anyway. As for Japan attacking. possible but not likely. In the late 1930's Russia had thoroughly thrashed Japan in a border war and Japan was up to her eyeballs in China adding the Soviet Union to her enemies would have been considered a very risky move. This scenario is unlikely.10
Once 5 million German and Italian troops are in country, Japan could launch a major assault on Russia from the Pacific. Drawing the Red Army to the opposite side of the country. After about a week, most of the Soviets would be concentrated on the far East side of Russia and the largest land invasion in the history of mankind could take place. It would only take a day to roll through Poland and into the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe could bomb Russian bases, factories and transportation routes, day and night. Relentless bombing.
Italian troops are unlikely in the first place. 5 million is an unlikely number to have available for an invasion of Russia in 1940. Oh and spring is a bad time to invade Russia, for spring turns the roads to muck. Given the vast distances of Siberia any Japanese attack would have quickly run out of steam and the Russians would never have transported the bulk of their army to the east, besides such a process would have taken months. As for bombing bases, transportation routes, factories the German air force lacked the capacity to bomb factories in a territory as large as European Russia, as for transportation nodes etc, they could only do so within at most 300 kilometers of the border before their efforts were dissipated. Even after the total surprise of Barbarossa German air power failed to be very important after the first month or so except on a local tactical basis.11
If executed well enough, I don't see how the Soviets could keep from collapsing and losing the war by the end of summer 1940. Unless the Soviets got some help, but who would come to their rescue? Once the USSR is conquered, Hitler could move his forces back and strike whatever kind of deal the Japanese would like. I'm sure they would ask for assistance in a future war against the United States, where Hitler could say, "Wait until I conquer Europe. Then we will gang up on the Americans. I'll attack on the East coast U.S. and you can take them on the West."
Since I find it very unlikely that Germany could have accumulated the resources to attack the Soviet Union in 1940 and no going through Poland would not have taken a "day", I suspect the Soviet Union would have survived. After all during the Second World War it managed to build up by December 1941 a significant manpower superiority over the Germans, which increased as the war went on, and throughout the war the Soviets maintained a million man army in Siberia to contain the Japanese. And given the vast distances of European Russia let alone Siberia I frankly doubt the German ability to conquer Russia. They were hoping for a state collapse which was from the start rather unlikely. I suspect at best they could hope for was a stalemate. As for an attack on the US east coast. Very unlikely. The economic resources of the USA were immense; any attempt to invade would have been soundly crushed. Hitler would have had significant problems holding on to his gains so an invasion of the USA would have been a non-starter. Even if the Soviet Union had been disposed of there would still have been the British empire with America supporting her.12
With the Soviet Union out of the picture first, France and Britain would be in DEEP trouble. Unless they could get the United States involved. If the U.S. stays out of it, then Hitler could roll right through the French. The British would be a little tougher, but they'd eventually lose once Hitler could neutralize the British Navy and find a way across the English channel. Hitler could also re-arm Soviet POWs and send them to the front lines.
Thus it is unlikely that France and Britain would have stood aside. Given that the French, despite post war myth were NOT pushovers in 1940, I doubt it. Given that Hitler at best would have had a stalemate in the east I doubt he would have even tried to attack France under those circumstances. Hitler would not likely have been able to negate the British navy, especially if the French navy had joined the British and it is all too likely American support would easily have been forthcoming to Britain. Soviet POWs would almost certainly not have been interested in fighting for Hitler against the British and French without massive coercion and their combat value would have been very low. And given how Hitler had Soviet POWs treated most would have been in very bad shape if not dead. The policy of shooting and starving to death Soviet POWs was one that Hitler carried out and a policy supported by the great majority of the German Generals, who loathsome duty was to carry it out.13

The speculation of using Soviet POWs by the millions in combat goes back to hoary old myths that if Hitler had come as a liberator the Soviet Union would have collapsed. Well that is similar to saying if it rained in the desert we would have more flowers. All this speculation requires is that Hitler not be Hitler, (And the German Generals not have poisonous anti-Slav attitudes) and all would be well. It is fantasy.14
Once Europe is taken, the only thing left is the United States (and Canada) but Canada would have been fighting in Europe already, aiding the U.K. So its likely most of the Canadian military would have been destroyed by this time. If the U.S. had not gotten involved early, or at least started a massive military build-up once Hitler went after France and Britain. It's likely the Germans, Japanese and Italians could take the United States.
Unlikely in the extreme, the Canadian military was not in Europe in large numbers until 1944, so there was no large military to be destroyed earlier. Further the economic resources of the USA were so large I doubt the ability of any combination of powers to successfully invade the USA in the 1940's. Oh and the USA did start a military buildup in 1938.15
I know this plan seems unlikely, as one simple difference could change the entire outcome. Like France and Britain aiding the Soviet Union before they could be defeated. Or the United States getting involved in Europe before Hitler could take France, etc.

For the record, I'm not a Hitler lover. I think the guy was a complete nut job and aside from Stalin, the most evil man in history. Anyway, how do you think Nazi Germany could have successfully conquered Europe or even the entire world? If you think it was possible, even if the odds were very slim..?
I agree it is very unlikely. In fact a German victory in World War II once they attacked Russia was very unlikely indeed.

This counter-factual like so many others relies on things being fundamentally different, but if they were fundamentally different these possibilities would never have arose in the first place. A Hitler, with ay much less chauvinistic / racist authoritarian class of military officers, (which would have been required for the policies outlined to be conceivable), would not have launched the Second World War to begin with much less invaded the Soviet Union. The logic of this counter-factual is similar to wishing that horses didn’t need sleep so that they could plow 24/7. It’s a fantasy.

1. See Here.

2. Weinberg, Gerhard, L, Germany, Hitler and World War II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 307-308, & Unexplored Questions About the German military during the World War II, The Journal of Military History, V. 62, I. 2 (April 1998), pp. 371-380, Smelser, Ronald, & Davies, Edward J, The Myth of the Eastern Front, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, pp. 127-156. Wette, Wolfram, The Wehrmacht, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS, 2006, pp. 195-250.

3. IBID, Weinberg 1995, pp. 282-286, and Introduction, in Heiber, Helmut and Glantz, David M, Editors, Hitler’s Generals, Enigma Books, New York, 2003, pp. i-x.

4. Weinberg 1998, 1995, pp. 308-309, Goda, Norman J. W, Black Marks Hitler’s Bribery of his Senior Officers during World War II, Journal of Modern History, V. 72, No. 2, (June 2000), pp.413-452.

5. Wette, pp. 139-194, Bartov, Omer, The Eastern Front 1941-45, German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare, 2nd Edition, Palgrave, Oxford, 2001, pp. 40-67, Kershaw, Ian, The End, Penguin Books, New York, 2011, pp. 386-400, Smelser et al, pp. 64-156.

6. Tooze, Adam, The Wages of Destruction, Penguin Books, London, 2006, pp. 396-425.

7. Glantz, Operation Barbarossa, The History Press, Stroud England, 2011, pp. 10-29, and with House, Jonathan, When Titans Clashed, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995, pp. 28-35, Tooze, pp. 432-460.

8. IBID, Tooze, pp. 396-425.

9. Sullivan, Brian R, More than Meets the Eye: the Ethiopian War and the Origins of the Second World War, in Martel, Gordon, Editor, The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered, Second Edition, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 178-203, Cassels, Alan, Mussolini and the Myth of Rome, in Martel, Gordon, pp. 57-74, Knox, MacGregor, Mussolini Unleashed, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 3-44, 108-116.

10. Tooze, pp. 429-460, Young, Louise, Japan at War: History-Writing on the Crisis of the 1930’s, in Martel, pp. 155-177, Glantz et al, 1995, pp. 13-14, Iriye, Japanese Imperialism and Aggression: Re-considerations, and Japan’s Foreign Policies between World Wars: Sources and Interpretations, in Robertson, Esmonde M, Editor, The Origins of the Second World War, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1971, pp. 243-261, 262-271.

11. IBID, Tooze, Glantz, 1995, pp. 28-45, Glantz, 2011, pp. 11-29.

12. Glantz 1995, pp. 301-305, Tooze, pp. 396-425.

13. Tooze, pp. 326-395, May, Ernst R, Strange Victory, Hill and Wang, New York, 2000, pp. 448-484, Smelser et al, p. 243, Wette, pp. 127-198-199, Evan’s Richard J, The Third Reich at War, Penguin Books, London, 2008, pp. 182-186.

14. Smelser, et al, pp. 223-246.

15. Hart, B. H, History of the Second World War, Cassel, London, 1970, pp. 343-368, Tooze. pp. 429-460.

Pierre Cloutier

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