GERMANY IN 1939: sHOULD WWII Have Been Launched in 1942-43?

I was reading a book about WWII, and the author saya that in 1939, many senior german generals urged Hitler to delay launching the war. Supposedly, Generals including Beck, Guderian, von Rundsted believed that Germany should delay the war until 1942 or even 1943. Their reasons were that Germany was only marginally ready, by waiting, the following things would be available:
-the Navy would have 2000 U-Boats, plus two aircraft carriers and a fleet air arm. In addition, a full fleet of surface warships.
-the Luftwaffe would have a ground attack fighter to replace the almost-obsolete JU-87 STUKA. In addition, they would have 4-engine heavy bombers (equivilent to the English Lancaster or US Mitchell bombers.
-the Army would have 100 divisions, and be fully motorized (no more horse transport). In addition, all of the Panzer armies would have PKFW Mark-IV tanks.
So, would Germany have been better of waiting till 1943? Or would the Allies have re-armed in the meantime, sufficient to nullify the German’s edge?
Anybody know why Hitler overruled his senior generals on this?

One possibility is that Hitler didn’t think he was starting WWII, i.e. he didn’t think invading Poland would lead to all out war with the U.K. and France. He may have seen it as just one more bluff to acquire territory, just as he had with the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Each time, the U.K. and France said “If you do that, there will be serious consequences,” then after he’d done it, they said, “Don’t ever do that again!” Why would his invasion of Poland be any different in his eyes? It didn’t pose any direct territorial threat to the U.K. or France, so why should they react any differently to his previous expansions?

Britain’s rearmament was going full steam by 1940 and the US was ramping up design and procurement, though much of what we were building was rapidly becoming obsolete, much like what the French were building. The “improved” ground attack planes Germany was designing (though you must bear in mind that Hitler was so taken with dive bombing that all German warplanes were designed for ground attack in addition to their regular duties) turned out to be so problematic that the Stuka stayed in use until the end of the war. The same was true in spades for the Heinkel He 177 four-engined (two engines shared each nacelle), which is credited with having killed more Germans than Allies. On the other hand, they already had an equal to the B-25 Mitchell in the Ju-88.

[minor nitpick]
Perhaps you meant the Liberator; the B-25 Mitchell was a twin engine bomber.
[/minor nitpick]

As to your question, my impression from reading Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is exactly what Northern Piper said, coupled with the impression that Hitler wanted to engage England and France, and was growing impatient with waiting for it. He desperately wanted payback for what happened to Germany after WWI, and embraced the idea of exacting his revenge on the countries that made it happen.

That, plus he was a nut.

A question for you for clarification: Does Japan still attack Pearl in 1941?

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had Hitler choosen not to blitz thru Belgium right away and attack France. France and England would definitly not have attacked Germany, but would have placed even more troops behind the Maginot Line. Dunkirk could have been an even bigger cathastrophy than it originally was.

This discussion has the makings of a decent debate and there is (beyond the historical points already raised), no factual answer.

Have fun in GD.

[ /Moderator Mode ]

Now that we’re in the proper Forum, I would be curious to see where the German High Command laid out their objects–several of which are a bit weak:

2,000 submarines would have been a significant plus.

Having a couple of brand new aircraft carriers and a handful of naval pilots would have been almost no advantage; they would have been torn up by navies with 20 years more experience and many more flattops.

Having a heavy bomber is not the equivalent of having an effective heavy bomber. As noted, the Heinkel 177 never lived up to expectations and the Focke-Wulf 200 (converted airliner) made a reasonable sea raider without ever becoming a true heavy bomber.
There was more to this shortfall than technical incompetence by German engineers (who displayed great competence in many aircraft designs, of course). Unlike the Brits and Yanks who envisioned fleets of long-range bombers during the 1920s and began developing them in the 1930s, German strategists never envisioned a strategic air war, so they were several years behind the Allies in practical experience for design and construction.

Is it true that the German Command actually thought that they would be using PKFW Mark-IV tanks in four more years? This would indicate a serious lack of imagination (and intelligence gathering) on their part. The Mark IV woud have eaten British Matildas for breakfast, but every other nation (including Britain) had tanks as good as or better than the Mark IV and all were in the process of increasing their production.


A. Because the Allies were arming faster than Germany.

Hubert Menzel was a major in the General Operations Department of the OKH (the Oberkommando des Heers, the German Army headquarters), and for him the idea of invading the Soviet Union in 1941 had the smack of cold, clear logic to it: ‘We knew that in two years’ time, that is by the end of 1942, beginning of 1943, the English would be ready, the Americans would be ready, the Russians would be ready too, and then we would have to deal with all three of them at the same time… We had to try to remove the greatest threat from the East… At the time it seemed possible.’ (The above paragraphs are taken from chapter one of ‘War of the Century’ by Laurence Rees, published by BBC Publications, 1999.)

There are many such cites – the Germans were convinced Russia was getting stronger – this seems logical and even if we were to postulate that the Germans were arming faster (which the Germans didn’t believe), it certainly wasn’t fast enough to overcome Russia - let alone a stronger UK-USA and (ducks) France

B. Because if he invaded Russia 2 years later he wouldn’t have enjoyed the same level of early success as he did in '41 and probably, given A above, would not have lasted as long as he did IMO.

Barring pearl Harbor, would the USA have EVER re-armed? As far as I know, the US population was not entranced with war in Europe-there were plenty of german-Americans and irish-Americans who had no great love for GB. I’m interested in Russia-presumably by 1942 Stalin would have completed the destruction of his army officer corps-and replaced good, competent generals (like Zhukov and Timoshenko) with reliable party hacks like Budyenny (an idiot who had no idea about how to counter a panzer attack). So perhaps Hitler would have been better off-though I think the French would have been a much harder nut to crack in 1942.

The US was already re-arming before Pearl Harbor.

I doubt Germany would have been able to hold off the war until they were fully ready once Hitler started his aggressive foreign policy moves. That pretty much alerted the other European powers that it would be wise to start re-arming themselves. The British in particular were into full production prior to the war if memory serves, and as has been stated even America was re-arming to a certain extent.

Now, if Germany had just not tangled with Russia until 43 or 44…THAT might have made a big difference.


There is serious likelyhood that Allied atomic programmes would have been ready in time for the war, if it had started later and therefore possibly gone on longer.

The British radar systems would have been so much better, they would be very near if not actually, producing jet fighters, the German effort was seriously compromised by having its design changed during testing.

Russia was certainly re-arming, Stalins destruction fo the old officer corps was just about completed before WWII started, and he would have had more time to produce more tanks, and, most imporantly, to train his pilots - this would have been a severe handicap to the Germans.

At the time, the Czechs and Poles were also rearming, they would have provided a sterner test.

Stating that Hitler would have had 2000 submarines is misleading, because the overwhelming majority would not have been produced as they were replacements for losses, its very likely there would have been the same or very similar numbers available as there were in late 1939, and the rivalry between differant parts of the German Navy arms might well have meant more resources going to surface vessels anyway.

One big problem with it all and perhaps an imperative, was Germany’s trade and budgetry deficit, after such a huge expansion of public spending the clock was always running, what would Hitler have done, the debts were piling up, its reasonabl to assume there would have been serious economic difficulty.

Assuming that, in that case, the Soviets wouldn’t have attacked first.

Would they have? I thought Stalin was pretty happy with the non-aggression treaty with Hitler and basically decided to fry other internal fish since he got it…even to the point of initially ignoring/disbelieving that the Germans had attacked.

My own (probably flawed) read is that if Hitler had left the Russians alone they would have spent the time doing internal things that wouldn’t really have prepared them anymore for an invasion 3 or 4 years down the pike. Hell, as loony as Stalin was there could have been ANOTHER series of purges during that time.


Stalin certainly didn’t believe Hitler would attack when he attacked. But, since the pact, the Soviets had been working on rebuilding the Red Army, both in men and leadership, and much of Soviet foreign policy after the pact (invading the Baltics, eastern Poland, and Finland) was an attempt to build a buffer against German invasion.

Oh, I agree with you that Stalin and the Soviets were attempting to build a buffer, and I also understand your point about rebuilding the Red Army after the purges in the 30’s. I just don’t know how effective they would have been at rebuilding their military, as I don’t think they had a really good grasp of modern warfare or tactics. Certainly they would have had more planes and tanks…but without the tactics to use them effectively they would have been no better off 3 or 4 years down the pike then they were when the Germans actually invaded. After all, the Soviets outclassed the German armor by a pretty hefty margin as it was…yet it did them no real good because of how they used it. And Stalin would still have tried to stick his nose into the mix initially 3 or 4 years down the line just like he did during the real war.

The Germans on the other hand could probably have wrapped up the war with the British in 3 or 4 years…either a settlement of some kind or out and out victory. At the least they could have had time to consolidate their gains in Western Europe free from a second front with the Soviets…something they never managed to do afaik. They could have put more effort into their Africa adventure and captured the oil fields in the ME for instance.

There would have been on serious threat to Western Europe from either the US or the UK without the second front the Germans opened with the Soviets. In addition, if memory serves, the Germans and the Soviets had talked about sharing tank designs…before the Germans launched their invasion. If nothing else, spys would have told the Germans more about Soviet Armor, and they would have had time to develop heavier armor themselves. I believe their Tiger design (which while faulty was still a pretty powerful unit) was already on the drawing boards prior to the invasion (I could be wrong about that…I think it was introduced in '43 so it would have taken some time to develop).


This all ignores the economic side. Fascist Germany was on the verge of economic bankruptcy. It is not a matter of a new bomber, and Tiger tanks, and 2,000 u-boats, just by waiting. There were huge resource problems, and the only way Germany survived was through the absolutely brutal plunder of the conquered territories.

Hitler, as far as I can see, wanted war over Czecheslovakia, if not earlier. He needed war to allow the economy to continue.

The Mark-IV wasn’t that great. It was used until the end of the war because it had to be but it was intended to be a support tank, not a main battle tank. It survived because it was the only German tank then in production that was big enough to be upgunned sufficiently to have a chance of dealing with the Russian T-34 which had rendered all the other early panzers totally obsolete. The Mark-IVs (more likely Mark-IIIs actually given it was the intended MBT) would have been the early models before painful battlefield experience taught the necessity of uparmouring and upgunning then. These were in the event destroyable by the standard anti-tank guns of all the armies they would encounter. Meanwhile the first T-34s started rolling off the production line in 1940 and by 1943 the Red Army was going to be equipped with very large numbers of them so versus Russia the tank vs tank balance deteriorates dramatically the longer the Germans wait. The T-34 was simply vastly superior. The early panzers despite their technical deficiencies proved adequate in destroying the armies they were required to face in 1939-1940 and the Germans lose not gain in this respect by delaying.

A similar argument in regards to the stuka. It was perfectly serviceable in 1939-1940 when it operated within German air superiority. That superiority was achievable in 1939 but by 1943 even the French were going to have completed their transition to a new generation of aircraft and even Luftwaffe numerical superiority was going to be lost by that point. Britain alone was out-building German aircraft production as early as late 1939 and the numbers were not moving in Germany’s favour.

As for having the entire German army fully motorised by 1942-1943 where is the oil going to come from to drive this plus 2000 submarines, a full scale German fleet and an expanded Luftwaffe etc? Its just not feasible given German fuel constraints.

But all in all I dont think its very useful to list in isolation what the Germans wanted to do/might have done in another three years of peace. They struck historically when the striking was good, but their (rapidly rearming) potential enemies werent going to be idle for another three years. They were also building, and training and researching, and time was on their side.

In addition to all the other problems with German bombers that have been noted, there was another one. Hitler insisted that the entire bomber fleet had to have two engines (look at pics and specs for the He 177), plus they had to have dive bombing capabilities. Not a good combination

One thing I have never understood about Hitler-he never seemed to have a “grand strategy” for the war. For example, instead of sending the Afrika Korps to Libya, he should have send a complete army-then he could have easily captured Egypt, and closed the Suez canal. He might even have been able to capture the oilfields of Iraq. Instead, he frittered away this opportunity.
And when pearl harbor came, he should have used his japanese allies better-instead of the japanese attacking south, he should have encouraged them to attack Siberia-that would have taken the pressure off him at Stalingrad. Of course, I understand that he really believed that the Russian campaign would be over in 6 months-but surely his senior generals must have told him the true state of the eastern front. And why was Hitler so at pains to appear to be backing up Mussolini? Once the Italian fleet was sunk (at taranto), the Italians were a negligible force-they were just about worthless as allies.
As for Operation Barbarossa-he should have listened to Guderian, who wanted the panzer armies to plunge deeply into Russia, and capture Moscow quickly-instead he (Hitler) decreed that the panzers had to wait for the infantry to catch up=which wasted much precious time.
Were it up to me, I would have not bothered with leningrad at all-I would have used the armor to punch a hole in the Russian center-Moscow could probably been captured by October 1941-man, what a wasted opportunity!

Had the Germans held off til '43 or so they would have lost - badly. Pretty much everyone else took their own rearmament very seriously while the Germans half-assed it until 43 or so (when they finally realized it just might not be a short war after all. One more offensive was not going to do it). Germany prioritized on not interrupting the consumer goods industries to help keep down anti-war sentiment.

Hitler and the German high command assessed that they had a window in which to make their conquests, a window which would close in the '44-'45 time frame, after which the material preponderance created by the allied response to German rearmament and aggressive moves would preclude Germany starting a war with any hope of success.

Xtisme: Zhukov showed a fair grasp of combined arms tactics while beating the snot out of the Japanese in Mongolia. Poor Soviet performance in '41 is as much due to the repercussions of the purges of the Red Army leadership in the end of the '30s. If the lieutenants who were doing colonels’s jobs in 41 had a chance to grow into their responsibilities of their positions, tehy could have done much better. Plus, given the German’s unwillingness to devote resources to logistics would have likely bog them down at the same times and places.