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WWII Articles
American Airborne Units in WWII
Czechoslovak Exile Units of WWII
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Barbarossa
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Yalta
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Robert C. Daniels Articles
WWII Veteran Interview
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Failures during the Spanish Civil War
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
WWII Veteran Interview
Muslim Invasion of Iberia
The Failures at Spion Kop
Combatants in Black Hawk War

Books by Robert C. Daniels


World War II in Mid-America: Experiences from rural mid-America during the Second World War


1220 Days: The Story Of U.S. Marine Edmond Babler And His Experiences In Japanese Prisoner Of War Camps During World War II


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Recommended Reading


Stalingrad: The Fateful Seige: 1942-1943


The Second World War

Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
by Robert C. Daniels

Whether Germany could have won the Second World War is a topic that even today still generates debates among the professional and lay historian alike. It is commonly said that it is the generals who make the least amount of mistakes that win the wars. However, this can also be said about the leaders of the belligerent nations as well, especially when they assume a strong, sometimes overbearing role in the military leadership and planning of wars. Germany's Adolf Hitler fits this later category during World War II.

As the strong, overbearing dictator of Germany during World War II, Hitler made many mistakes in waging the war. Two of the more prominent of these mistakes, both with wide and sweeping results, were the June 22, 1941 invasion of the USSR—Operation Barbarossa—and the December 11, 1941 unprovoked and unwarranted declaration of war on the United States—against the advice of Hitler's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop.[1] It is commonly argued that these two mistakes combined eventually resulted in Germany's ultimate downfall. However, even with the enormity of these two mistakes, one other mistake outweighs both the launching of Operation Barbarossa and the declaration of war on the United States in terms of possibly altering the outcome of the war. Had Hitler chosen to listen to his generals and bring England to her knees prior to the invasion of the USSR and the declaration of war on the United States by concentrating Germany's overwhelming forces in defeating the British in North Africa and the Middle East in 1941, Germany could very well have won the war.

By the end of May 1941, Germany, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, had conquered or, with the support of her allies and puppet rulers, gained the effective control over nearly all of Western Europe and was in possession of most of North Africa. Stalin, although not viewing Hitler as particularly trustworthy, had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany and was not anticipating an invasion from, nor planning an attack against Germany. The United States, although actively supporting England through the Lend-Lease law enacted in February 1941, and from the beginning of April of that same year was "operating a Neutrality Patrol which effectively excluded U-boats from the Atlantic west of Bermuda,"[2] was still clinging to the isolationist theory, and not readily eager nor willing to enter the war. This left Great Britain as Hitler's only remaining military threat, and Great Britain was in dire straits.

The British army, having had already taken a beating in Norway and France, leaving a substantial amount of her war equipment on the beaches of Dunkirk, was fighting a desperate struggle to hold onto its last remaining foothold of the war—Egypt.

Up to this point in the war, Hitler's forces seemed invincible. In March of 1938 Hitler effectively annexed Austria, 6 months later he did the same to the Sudetenland, and in March of 1939 annexed Czechoslovakia. The August 22, 1939 signing of the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR, privately stipulating that the Baltic States would go to the USSR and Poland would be partitioned between the USSR and Germany, left Hitler's army free to invade Poland.[3] Less than two months later Poland had been invaded and was in Nazi hands causing Great Britain and France to declare war with Germany.

By the summer of 1940, Denmark and Norway had also fallen to Germany.

May 10 to June 22, 1940, a timeframe covering just over a month, saw the German forces overrun, with relative ease, the Western European states of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and even France in the well thought out and planned Operation Sichelschnitt, "Sickle Stroke."[4] The Sichelschnitt plan, along with the use of the Blitzkrieg, "lightning war,"[5] proved to be a novel, if not a stroke of genius, way of overcoming and overwhelming an enemy, especially an enemy that is as surprised and ill equipped as was those of the Allied armies of 1940.

In three years Hitler had gained effective control over nearly all of Western Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean Ocean with only Great Britain left standing in her way, and England's only hold was in Egypt and the Middle East. It was clearly the time to eliminate this threat, and clearly the logical next step in Hitler's goal of eliminating all threatening continental powers in Europe, fulfilling Hitler's own political statement for Germany:

Never suffer the rise of two continental powers in Europe. Regard any attempt to organize a second military power on the German frontiers, even if only in the form of creating a state capable of military strength, as an attack on Germany, and in it see not only the right, but also the duty, to employ all means up to armed force to prevent rise of such a state, or, if one has already arisen, to smash it again.[6]

However, as history has shown, going against the advice of many of his general officers, Hitler ordered the implementation of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR, to begin on June 22, 1941, effectively creating a two front war and beginning the downfall of the German Third Reich. Hitler's personal need to strike at Russia was long ingrained into his psyche. In the mid-1920's, while serving time in Germany's Landsberg Prison, Hitler wrote his famous Mein Kampf,[7] where he outlined his world plan for Germany. In Mein Kampf Hitler laid out his plan for Germany's lebensraum, or living room. He wanted "to secure for the German people the land and soil which they are entitled on this earth."[8] Referring once again to his political statement for Germany, Hitler wrote:

See to it that the strength of our nation is founded, not on colonies, but on the soil of our European homeland. Never regard the Reich as secure unless for centuries to come it can give every scion of our people his own parcel of soil. Never forget that the most sacred right on this earth is a man's right to have earth to till with his own hands, and the most sacred sacrifice the blood that a man sheds for his earth.[9]

Stating, "We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east," Hitler saw the lands of Germany's eastern neighbors as the best for his lebensraum.[10] Since he was already in possession of Czechoslovakia and Poland, Russia, with its vast fertile western lands, was next in line. It was clear to anyone who took the time to read Hitler's Mein Kampf that the invasion of Russia was imminent as long as Hitler was the Fuhrer; and Mein Kampf was widely read throughout Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the USSR. The Russian army was taken off guard. With their army in relatively exposed locations in Poland far away from the Stalin Line—the fortified border between Russia and Poland—and not anticipating an attack, the Russians were quickly overwhelmed. According to historian John Keegan, Stalin, who had become self-delusioned in the months prior to Operation Barbarossa, was so stunned that he "underwent something like a nervous breakdown."[11] The Germans were able to advance to within twenty miles of the Kremlin in Moscow in just over five months. With a large and formidable army poised just outside, Moscow seemed ripe for the German taking. However, Hitler, once again going against the advice of his General Staff, called off the Moscow attack on December 5, 1941.[12]

Had Hitler listened to his General Staff and attacked Moscow in force, Moscow most likely would have fallen before the onslaught of the Russian winter. It was as much, if not to a more extent, the Russian winter that defeated the Germans on the Eastern Front than the efforts of the Russian military, at least in the early stages of the war. Had Hitler attacked Moscow at the earliest possible time before the snows arrived, the Germans might have been able to fortify Moscow and many could have spent the first winter of the war in relative warmth and comfort. Instead, Hitler began, in the words of General Franz Halder, "playing warlord," and more and more stopped listening to his generals. Before Barbarossa, Hitler had for the most part, allowed his generals to make decisions and run the campaigns. Now, in the Russian campaign, Hitler was "becoming a regular nuisance" in interfering in the day to day running of the war."[13]

Halder believed that driving headlong at Moscow was the way to overcome the Russian army's fighting power. Hitler, on the other hand, was all for seizing as much Russian territory and economic resources as possible, and as soon as possible—after all, Hitler wanted his lebensraum. To this end, the drive on Moscow was put off until the fighting around Smolensk and the Pripet Marshes were completed, and the drives on Leningrad and Kiev bore fruit. To accomplish these, the Army Group Center's—the group heading for Moscow—two Panzer groups were pulled away from the German Moscow force.[14]

As a result, the Germans did not take Moscow. By the first week of December 1941, without proper provisions for winter maneuvers, the Germans were at a standstill, though practically within sight of Moscow. Had the Germans properly equipped their troops for the frigid Russian winter, the German Army still could have probably taken Moscow that winter. Stalin had only approximately 800,000 men, 770 tanks, and 364 aircraft split up amongst ninety divisions along his entire European Russian front to oppose the Germans, figures that were vastly outnumbered by the Germans.[15] But instead, the Germans were forced into a standstill, attempting to keep warm, because General "Jodl[16] had refused to allow the collection or supply of winter clothing, lest its appearance cast doubt on his assurances that Russia would collapse before the coming of the snows."[17] In addition, Hitler refused an organized withdrawal to save his troops from freezing. In doing so, he went as far as seeing to it that those officers who attempted or even hinted at withdrawing their troops were relieved on the spot. Even on a few occasions, Hitler personally directed the offending officer's relief in his own presence.[18]

This refusal to allow retreats was not limited only to Moscow. Hitler also refused to allow Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Africa corps to be evacuated from a hopeless situation in North Africa stating, "No other path lies open to your troops except victory or death."[19] Hitler even went so far as promoting General von Paulus to the rank of field marshal on January 30, 1943, in hopes that von Paulus would fight to the death after refusing to allow the general to attempt a breakout from the besieged Stalingrad.[20] However, von Paulus, instinctively disapproving of suicide, defied Hitler's wishes stating to General Pfeffer, one of von Paulus' generals, "I have no intention of shooting myself for this Bohemian corporal," and surrendered the next day.[21]

Hitler's adamant attitude against any kind of retreat cost Germany many a good soldier, significantly contributing to loosing the war, at least against the Russians. It can be argued that had the Germans been allowed to retreat, conducting a form of elastic defense with mobile counterattacks on the Eastern Front, many German soldiers and their valuable war equipment would have been able to regroup and fight again. These retreated soldiers and equipment could have developed a stalwart defensive line that might have been impregnable to Russian assaults, or even actually re-attacked the Russians in a strong, concerted effort. Either of these could very well have turned the tide to a German-Russian stalemate in the East, if not an eventual victory for the Germans.

Not only launching Operation Barbarossa in the first place, but not allowing his troops to fall back when it was needed were grave mistakes made by Hitler. These, however, were not his only major mistakes of the war.

Arguably, one of, if not "the" major, mistakes made by Hitler throughout the war was the declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Privately, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany's Foreign Minister, who rightly saw this act as a grave mistake, upon hearing Hitler's declaration of war against the United States, warned the Fuhrer that Germany had now

just one year to cut Russia off from her military supplies arriving via Murmansk and the Persian Gulf…If we don't succeed and the munitions potential of the United States joins up with the manpower potential of the Russians, the war will enter a phase in which we shall only be able to win it with difficult.[22]

Once the United States was officially in the war, Germany's, as Japan's, chances for decisive victory was drastically reduced to near zero. The United States' vast potential for production of war material alone, even without the contribution of military forces, was staggering. Before the United States entered the war, England, for all practical purposes, stood alone on Germany's west. England, although showing signs of renewed strength through the lend-lease material sent by the United States, was still, however, not a major threat to Germany, and was still teetering on defeat. All of this changed when Hitler declared war on the United States. Now, a two-front war for Germany, something that was from the beginning a real concern for the German High Command, was a reality that Germany could hardly afford. With the United States in the war on England's side, especially at the same time Germany was waging war with the Russians in the east, Germany had little hope of anything other than a stalemate.

The fact that Hitler had made a major, if not fatal mistake by declaring war on the United States before ending his struggle with Russia is almost a given. It was now just a matter of time before Germany would eventually succumb to overwhelming industrial might and military manpower. However, prior to Hitler's declaration of war against the United States, Germany could have arguably won the war.

Instead of venturing into Russia when he did, Hitler could have conducted an all out war against Great Britain, forcing the British to capitulate. Although a concerted military effort against the British in Egypt would have nearly undoubtedly caused the capitulation of the English forces in North Africa, it still may have required the invasion of the British Isles to force a British surrender. A successful invasion of Great Britain by Germany, if properly planned and executed, was feasible. The alternative to a bloody invasion, however, would have been to overrun and take control of the Middle Eastern oil fields—depleting the English of fuel—enlarge and update the Luftwaffe arm and U-boat fleet, and lay siege to the British Isles, forcing the British to sue for peace.

In May of 1941, just twenty months after invading Poland, Germany was very close to wrestling England's hold on North Africa. At England's other front, the British Isles themselves, she was struggling against both German bombers—although by this time the English air forces were getting the upper hand—and the constant U-boat fleet attacking England's much needed freight and supply shipping. It is argued by many, including German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, that the war could have been won by Germany as early as the winter of 1941/42 had Hitler ordered a concerted effort against the British at this point. The ousting of the British from North Africa, the continuation of Germany's Luftwaffe and U-boat strangle-hold on the British Isles, and if necessary, the eventual all out invasion of the British Isles, could very possibly have brought Great Britain to her knees. This plan, according to Manstein, was actually advocated by the German Supreme Command.[23]

Once the British were defeated in North Africa, German troops could have been sent east to the relatively lightly defended oil fields of the Middle East. The fall of these strategic oil fields would have deprived the English of valuable fuel, fuel that was crucial to fighting a modern war. England, without this crucial source of fuel, would not have been able to launch an aggressive attack against the Germans, and would even have been taxed in defending her own sky's and shores from German attacks.

Stalin had signed the non-aggression pact, and, according to Keegan, in effect was closely collaborating with Hitler in these years of Germany's triumphs. According to Keegan, Stalin trusted Hitler so much, or at least was so self-delusioned by Hitler, that Stalin actually "made acceptance of Hitler's friendly intentions a sort of loyalty test among his intimates and in the high command."[24] Certainly the British could not count on help from the Russians in fighting off the Germans.

Britain's only real hope would have to come from across the Atlantic in the form of the United States. The summer of 1941, however, saw many in the United States leery about entering the war, or for that matter, even continuing sending aid to the Allies in fear of the aid accelerating into a declaration of war. Norman Thomas, the American Socialist Party's presidential candidate and a member of the America First Committee, in a May 4, 1941 radio broadcast on the American Forum of the Air program, argued against the United States' current policy of deploying armed U.S. Navy destroyers as escorts protecting British convoys across the Atlantic. Thomas argued that the best results of a war with Germany would be one of three: (1) a German victory; (2) an Allied victory only "after a long and costly struggle;" (3) a degree of stalemate with Russia coming out as the overall victor.[25]

Many other Americans, however, were all for the United States entering the war on the side of the British to defeat the Germans. For example, men such as the writer and lecturer Stanley High, and the president of Harvard University, James B. Conant, spoke out directly in favor of an all out military commitment to the overthrow of Germany—Conant as early as November 1940.[26]

Although a potentially powerful country, and as early as September of 1940 — through President Roosevelt's controversial peacetime draft—the United States had begun gearing up for the possibility of war, the United States was, for the most part, in May 1941, ‘sitting on the fence' and almost wholly unprepared for war.

Without adequate military support from allies, which at the time was not a reality for the British, it would seem that defeat of the English, both in Egypt and the British homeland itself, lay at Hitler's doorstep for the taking. For von Manstein, the capitulation of Great Britain was the key to both ending and winning the war. Never trustful of Stalin, von Manstein stated that it was the

Reich's most pressing task…to end the war with Britain at the earliest possible date. Only then could one hope that Stalin had finally missed his chance to exploit the discord of the European peoples for this own expansionist ends.[27]

Stalin, although having signed the 1939 non-aggression pact, was still seen by the German High Command as a threat, especially when German forces were engaged in the West. The High Command's position was that Russia would be a threat as long as Great Britain had not fallen, either through outright capitulation or a peaceful settlement under terms favorable to Germany.[28]

Hitler's Grand Admiral, Erich Raeder, referring to Operation Barbarossa, "urged that no new enterprises should be undertaken until Britain was beaten." In alternative to Operation Barbarossa, Raeder had produced and proposed Operation Felix, a "plan to hamstring Britain in the Mediterranean by capturing Gibraltar." He also proposed "initiatives in the Balkans and towards Turkey, which would put pressure on Britain at the Mediterranean's eastern end." Hermann Goering, the commander of the German Luftwaffe, also shared Raeder's "strategic outlook." Raeder also wanted to take the Atlantic Island chains of the Canaries, the Azores, and Cape Verde Islands.[29]

Taking Gibraltar would have meant invading General Francisco Franco's Spain. Franco, in a meeting with Hitler on October 23, 1940 at Hendaye on the Spanish-French boarder, which Hitler had hoped to "coax on to the Axis side—thus giving Germany free use of the British Rock of Gibraltar," had infuriated Hitler by "stonewalling throughout the hours of negotiation" resulting in Hitler "not advanc[ing] and inch towards co-belligerency with Franco."[30] However, in light of what Germany forces had accomplished to date, Spain, in reality, was not much of a challenge for Nazi Germany. And the taking of Gibraltar might well have been worth the struggle. The German occupation of Gibraltar would have allowed Germany to successfully seal off the Mediterranean to the British, forcing England to re-route its military re-supplies to her forces in Egypt and the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the long journey around the Horn of Africa. Arguably, however, the taking of Gibraltar by the Germans could very well have greatly antagonized the United States, if United States flagged ships were also refused entry into the Mediterranean. It should be remembered that the United States has had a long history of waging war to protect her right to the freedom of the seas.

As an alternative to taking Gibraltar and closing the Mediterranean, the taking of Island of Malta, situated between Sicily and Tripoli, could very well have crippled the British Mediterranean supply lines and protected the Axis' North African supply lines. Malta, as a British held island with a strong British naval and air presence, was a major thorn in the Axis' side. Not only were England's Mediterranean re-supply lines for her Egyptian based forces escorted and protected by the naval and air arms based at Malta, these same naval and air forces conducted countless sorties against the Axis ships and airplanes re-supplying Hitler's and Mussolini's forces in North Africa, with devastating results. In early 1941, in referring to Hitler's closest military advisers when asked to advise Hitler whether Malta or Crete was of a more important objective in the Mediterranean, German General Walter Warlimont recalled, "‘All officers of the Section, whether from the Army, Navy, or Air Force, voted unanimously for the capture of Malta, since this seemed to be the only way to secure permanently the sea route to North Africa.'"[31] However, General Kurt Student, the commander of the XI Air Corps, an elite German parachute unit, was able to convince Hermann Goering that Crete was a much easier target, and Malta was never taken.[32]

With additional troops and equipment, a strong, concerted German thrust in North Africa would almost certainly have caused the British troops to capitulate in Egypt. A follow-on German thrust to the sparsely defended Middle Eastern oil fields, depriving England of her crucial supply of fuel, would have most certainly curtailed the effectiveness of the British air forces over Great Britain, if not completely grounded the air arm altogether. With the proven effectiveness of the German forces, the fall of Egypt and the Middle Eastern oil fields could very well have happened within a few months with a concerted effort by Hitler's forces.

Without her air arm, or at least a severely curtailed air arm, the British would have been almost helpless against both the German Luftwaffe and U-boat menaces. Faced with the possible, if not imminent, invasion at the hands of the Germans, with little or no air cover and the arrival of outside supplies in question, Great Britain may very well have been forced to sue for peace as early as the winter of 1941/42.

The fall of Great Britain could have given Germany not only the needed time to regroup and rearm with more advanced submarines, tanks, and airplanes, but would have put Germany in a superb political position. With the holding of nearly all of Europe, North Africa, and possibly the Middle Eastern oil fields, either directly or through puppet regimes such as Marshal Philippe Pétain's Vichy French and allies such as Benito Mussolini, Germany would hold great sway over the remaining world powers.

Even the United States, who by December of 1941 would have been beginning her long war with Japan after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, would more than likely have had to think twice about entering a war on two fronts. Without the help of the British forces and their island nation close to the European Continent, with its use as a staging point for troop landings and air fields for bombing raids, the Atlantic front would have had to be fought similar to that of the Pacific, primarily as a naval war.

However, in the Atlantic islands do not exist in anywhere near the same proportions as do islands in the Pacific. This would mean that island hopping would not have been a realistic strategy as it was in the Pacific Theater of the war. The result would be the need for vast fleets of ships to ferry troops, supplies, and aircraft directly to the European landing areas. In 1941 and 1942 the United States did not have these vast fleets. And even with the massive ship build-up program that was soon to begin after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it would take the United States quite some time to be able to support two vast ocean fleets—time that Germany would be able to use to consolidate, refurbish, and refit her own naval, air and land forces, even while fighting the Russians.

The question that now comes into place is whether Great Britain would have buckled under the pressure and sued for peace? Von Manstein states that

It may be that the British national character, so impressively incorporated in the person of Winston Churchill, prevented Britain from entertaining any serious thought of a rational settlement at that or indeed any later stage of the war.[33]

This may be true. Winston Churchill was a "fighter," who backed the British policy of traditionally striving for a "European balance of power, the restoration of which had been Britain's ultimate motive for entering the war."[34]

Only the ousting of Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister for a less stalwart prime minister would more than likely have kept Great Britain from continuing the war as the war was currently being played out. However, this was not out of the question at the time—Churchill was not yet the hero he is seen as today, still having his World War I reputation to overcome. With a continuation and even acceleration of the attacks by the U-boats on the needed British supply lines and the Luftwaffe on the English homeland, the British Parliament may have eventually been forced to act on a peace settlement. German invasion of the British home islands would probably have seen an even quicker action by the Parliament. It must be remembered that Great Britain also relied heavily on the hopes of the "ability of the American President eventually to bring the United States into the war on Britain's side," and as Manstein stated, the American public were disinclined to do so at that stage.[35] And as has been already pointed out, the United States wasn't yet ready for war.

Additionally, had Goering, with Hitler's approval, not given the order to change bombing targets away from the British airfields, the Battle of Britain would likely have been won by the Germans, easing the possible siege of Great Britain by lessening, if not eliminating the British bomber arm that proved so deadly to the German U-boats.

It is argued that with the use of Ultra, England's Bletchley Park Code and Cipher School's top secret deciphering of Germany's Enigma coding machine, the British knew most of Germany's moves before hand. This can also be said, however, of the German navy's "Observation Service (Beobachtungs—or B-Dienst)," which deciphered the British Royal Navy's convoy radio message traffic enabling German U-boats to home in on the convoys supplying Great Britain with vital war and food supplies.[36] Both Ultra and B-Dienst played major parts in intercepting and decoding, sometimes in real time (as fast as the originator's forces could encode their own messages) their opposing forces' coded military messages. Although it is true that Ultra played influencing roles in the favorable outcomes of several major battles, and B-Dienst was instrumental in the high U-boat success against Allied convoys, it is difficult to say that either was actually instrumental in shortening the war as is sometimes suggested. In relating to Ultra's ultimate influence on the outcome of the war, Keegan states,

. . . as Clausewitz's[37] famous and accurate observation on combat reminds us, on the battlefield "friction" always intervenes between the intentions and achievements of even the best-informed general: accident, misunderstanding, delay, disobedience inevitably distort and enemy's plans so that, whatever advance knowledge his opponent may have of them, he can never so predisposition his troops and responses as to be sure of frustrating the enemy's actions; nor because of "frictions" working against him, can he count on smoothly carrying out his own counter-measures. Ultra reduced friction for the Allied generals; but it did not abolish it.[38]

Of all the difficulties the Germans faced in waging World War II, the greatest lay in having their own Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, as their supreme commander—their worst general. Hitler had been allowed to gain too much control, even over the military commanders. To foresee Hitler's ultimate national goals, one had only needed to read Hitler's Mein Kampf, which was widely published and read during the late 1930s and early 1940s in Germany. Undoubtedly, many of the high ranking General Staff were among the many readers, yet still allowed themselves to be overtaken by the circumstances. The circumstances surrounding Hitler's ability to be allowed to gain such overwhelming control and power over not only the country, but also the professional military soldier alike is beyond the scope of this writing. However, once Hitler did gain this exalted position, the military's options became vastly limited.

With their worst general leading the military, almost certainly, the first and most important step for the German military to take in order to win the war would have been to oust the Fuhrer. This, however, could only have been done through a coup. Von Manstein best summed this feeling up when he stated,

Admittedly, the military leaders had ultimately allowed Hitler to [outmanoeuvre] them, just as it may be said that they accepted the pre-eminence of politics—even politics they did not agree with, but could have prevented only by a coup détente.[39]

It must be stated here that such coup attempts did occur, although unsuccessful. The most famous such attempt almost worked on July 20, 1944. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, acting in conjunction with other high ranking military officers, planted a bomb in Hitler's Rastenburg headquarters. The bomb, however, failed to kill Hitler, and subsequently Stauffenberg and others, including Field Marshal Rommel, were either executed or forced to commit suicide.[40]

All rulers and their generals make mistakes in wars, some with very costly results. Hitler, in this fashion, was no different than his contemporaries. He made mistakes; some that had very drastic results.

Invading Russia, at least too soon and declaring war on the United States are truly, as argued by many, two combined reasons that Germany failed to win the war. However, not listening to his military—the professional soldier, the generals—and not allowing them to wage the war, outweighs even Hitler's blunders of invading Russia when he did and declaring war on the United States. Even with the advent of having to go up against the strength of the American fighting machine, had Hitler allowed the war to be fought by his professional military, as proud, dedicated, and experienced as they were, they may very well have found a way to at least fought, even the combined forces of the Allies—the Americans included—to a stalemate. Yes, the German generals also made mistakes, but they certainly would not have left their armies to freeze in the Russian winter or be captured by the Russian and Allied armies in the mass proportions that Hitler had.

Had Hitler listened to his General Staff and allowed them to wage full war on Great Britain in the Summer of 1941 instead of invading Russia—as the General Staff advised—and consulted, and heeded the advise of, this same General Staff before foolishly declaring war on the United States, the British could certainly have been forced to capitulate. An all out struggle in the summer of 1941 against England in North Africa and the Middle East and even, if necessary, invading the British home islands before invading Russia and before the United States could or would fully support the British could have forced England to her knees. Waiting until England was out of the war before attacking Russia, allowing retreats, and better supplying the German troops for winter combat conditions could very well have seen a German triumph over the Russians, or, at the very least, a stalemate. Defeating Great Britain before declaring war on the United States would have forced the Americans, without the help of the British forces and the use of their island nation from which to launch military sorties, into the prospect of fighting both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters on the open seas. This prospect could possibly have giving the United States second thoughts about entering the war, but certainly would have made the war much longer and harder for the Americans to win, and given the Germans time to rearm and better consolidate.

The key to Germany's winning the war, at least in 1941/42, was defeating the British. The key to defeating the British was the professional German soldier's know how. Germany's greatest enemy was her worst general—her Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler. Had Hitler been able to listen to his generals, or had the generals been able to oust Hitler, Germany may very well have won World War II in Europe.

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Show Footnotes and Sources

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Copyright © 2007 Robert C. Daniels.

Written by Robert C. Daniels. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Robert Daniels at:
rdaniels26@cox.net.

About the author:
Robert Daniels, after retiring from the U.S. Navy as a Chief Petty Officer, received his AA from Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, VA, his BA in History from Old Dominion University (ODU), Norfolk, VA, and his MA in Military Studies, Land Warfare from the American Military University (AMU), Manassas Park, VA. He has also written and published two books telling the exploits of both WWII era veterans and civilians: 1220 Days and World War II in Mid-America. Excerpts of these books, as well as access to order autographed copies of them, a short author bio, and info on his current writing projects can be viewed on his web page at http://www.robertcdaniels.com He currently teaches adjunct U.S. and Western Civilization History at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, VA, when not managing a U.S. Coast Guard schoolhouse.

Published online: 05/20/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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