Could Germany Have Won the Second World War?

By Chuck Hawks


I think that the USA, and to a lesser extent the USSR, held what might be called the decisive advantage in WW II. By which I mean that these two countries, singly or together, had the resources, manpower and material to decide the war in favor of either the Axis or the Allies. Had neither become involved in the war in Europe, it would likely have become a stalemate; Germany and Italy would not have been able to conquer the British Empire and the British Empire would not have been able to conquer Germany and Italy. Whichever side either of these two countries joined would have the advantage.

Once Hitler opened a second front by attacking the USSR, the Nazis were almost certainly doomed. They did not have the resources in terms of people or material to defeat both the British Empire and the USSR simultaneously. The USSR probably did more than any other combatent to drain the German war machine. The Third Reich was bleeding to death in front of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad, even before it was pulverized from the air by the Western Allies.

Even if Moscow had fallen the Russian military and people would simply have fought on, as Napoleon had discovered earlier. To defeat Russia you have to destroy their Army and the people's will to fight. Or perhaps their ability to fight. During the First World War Imperial Germany (with the help of the Bolsheviks) was able to destroy the Russian people's will to fight. Hitler's orchestrated brutality to the people in captured Soviet territory negated that possibility in the Second World War. Moscow would just have become another city in the long list that had fallen to the Germans. The vital means of production had already been moved east.

What Germany needed was their "Ural bomber" (a long range heavy bomber) to attack those means of production. As it was, the Germans could only destroy Russian war materials on the field of battle, the most inefficient and costly way. Of course, the reverse was also true, but far less critical, as the USSR was allied with the UK and RAF bomber command did have the four-engined heavy bombers necessary to carry the war deep into Germany, as they did.

The bottom line is that the USSR had the numbers and resources to win a war of attrition on the Eastern Front, and Germany did not. The war on the Eastern Front would eventually and inevitably bleed Germany white, as it did, adversely affecting Germany's ability to fight on all other fronts. Or even adequately defend her own airspace against the coming onslaught of Allied bombers and fighters.

The USSR did not have the economic power to hammer Germany to her knees, as did the U.S. But the USSR was able to bleed Germany to death over time, perhaps analogous to the debilitating effects that a slow but fatal disease like leukemia has on the human body.

Probably Germany's best chance to defeat the USSR would have been to talk Japan into attacking the USSR from the east (and leaving the US strictly alone). Initally, I suspect that Hitler was too arrogant and overconfident to ask his Asian ally for help, even though he eventually needed it desperately. For their part, the Japanese Army had earlier been handled roughly by the Soviet Army on the northern border of Manchuria and probably wanted no more battles with the Red Army. Later, it was too late for both Germany and Japan. Also, the Japanese did not want to fight a war in Siberia that they probably could not win, especially as their Army was heavily engaged in China. They were a naval power and the IJN could not contribute much to a war against the USSR. Of course, the IJN could have contributed a lot to a war against the Royal Navy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but that would have almost certainly brought the US into the war, an event that Germany was trying to avoid. Ultimately, Japan had less to contribute to a German victory than the USSR had to contribute to a British victory, so any Japanese strategy would probably have failed.

Once the US entered the war on the Allied side, Germany was doomed. Even if Hitler had refrained from attacking the USSR and that power had remained neutral throughout the war, America simply had too many resources. Just as in the First World War, the US and the British Empire (plus most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere) would have eventually won a war of attrition.

Again, Germany's best hope would have involved Japan and the USSR. If Hitler had refrained from attacking the USSR (Japanese diplomats were trying to get the USSR to join the Axis when Germany attacked, thereby demonstrating that at least some in the Japanese government had a much better concept of global strategy than did Hitler), and instead convinced both Japan and the USSR to join the Axis and help Germany, Italy and their allies against the British Empire, the US and their allies, it would have been a long and bitter war indeed, perhaps another stalemate. The posibility of stalemate or Axis victory would have been enhanced if Hitler also forced Spain into the war on the Axis side, taking Gibralter, driving England from the Mediterranean and protecting Italy.

In fact, of course, Hitler did open a second front by attacking the USSR and the US and UK made the European war their first priority after Japan drew the US into the war on Dec 7, 1941. Even though Germany gained Japan as an active ally, she was doubly doomed.

By which I do not mean to imply that defeating Germany (and Italy and Japan) was easy. In fact, it was a long, costly, dangerous, bloody road to victory. At the time it appeared to Allied leaders and soldiers alike that the Axis powers might win the war. From their perspective, they were engaged in a death struggle that they might very well lose. But, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that their overwhelming industrial might meant that the odds heavily favored the Allies.

Fortunately, none of the Axis heads of state had any plan or strategy for a joint war effort, so the Allies were able to defeat them piecemeal. And the Japanese, who at least had a pre-war grand strategy in the Pacific, over extended themselves after their unexpectedly easy initial victories, hastening their own defeat.

Since I have considered the possibility of the USSR fighting on the Axis side in WW II, it is only fair to examine the scenerio of the US joining the Axis. Had Hitler not attacked the USSR (and the USSR remained neutral), and had the US unexpectedly joined the Axis, then:

  1. A major war would have been fought in North America, as Canada was already at war with Germany.
  2. After (if) the US defeated Canada, plus Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of the British Empire outside of the UK (maybe with the help of Japan [!] in the Pacific and Indian Oceans), the US Navy could neutralize the Royal Navy in the Atlantic, and the US and German Armies and Air Forces together could defeat the RAF, invade the UK, and win the war for the Axis. Then, Germany could have attacked the USSR with a reasonable chance of success. Of course, politically, there was zero chance of such a thing happening.

I would like to make a few comments about Adolf Hitler, since he personified the Third Reich, and made all of the strategic decisions. I regard Hitler as a superb (if evil) politician with great political insight. This allowed him to gain power, re-arm Germany, and gobble-up parts of Europe with impunity.

Once the war started, however, his weaknesses became evident. He had some tactical sense, probably due to his experience in WW I as a combat infantryman. But, he was a very poor strategist. As far as I can tell, he never had a "grand strategy." By which I mean a clear set of goals for the war and a plan to reach them. Hitler was, in fact, taken by surprise when England and France declared war on Germany. He had expected to partition Poland without fighting a major war, and had no plan beyond defeating Poland. Hence the period of "Phony War" after the defeat of Poland, while the German generals planned the campaign against France.

When Italy joined the war, Hitler and Mussolini made no serious attempt to devise a common strategy. In fact, Mussolini's military mis-adventures in Greece and North Africa drained away valuable German military resources. After the defeat of France, Hitler seemed to have no idea what to do next, no plan at all for defeating the British Empire. Instead, he formulated his plan to attack the USSR, against the advice of his generals and without consulting his allies, and sealed the fate of Germany.

Hitler fought the whole war on an "ad-hoc" basis, a campaign at a time. This lack of any coherent strategy cost Germany dearly.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought America into the war, Hitler made no attempt to formulate a common strategy with Japan. Again, he was taken completely by surprise (In truth, the Japanese leaders did not consult with Hitler, either, and may not have had much respect for him. Before the war, Admiral Yamamato declined an offer to meet with Hitler when the Admiral was traveling across Germany). I have always blamed this failure to consult with his allies, at least partly, on Hitler's arrogance. Hitler generally seemed to believe himself superior to his allies, as if he knew more. In fact, in terms of overall strategy, he knew less.




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