Hitler's strategy

(This is more of a GQ, but I can’t see it turned into anything other than a debate.)

I’ve read a lot about WWII in my life, starting when I was a child. I’m currently reading the memoirs of Adolf Galland, who was a high-scoring ace (#4 in Germany, I think) and who reported to Göring and who met with Hitler on several occasions. (He’s the guy who during the Battle of Britain, when asked by Göring what he needed to win the battle, said ‘A squadron of Spitfires.’)

Every book I’ve read on the war, except for this one, was written by someone on the Allied side. Most have been about the aircraft. I did read Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but it’s been many years. The subject of WWII is so great that there is much that I’ve forgotten. One thing that I remember from history classes, and which is stated in Galland’s book, is that Hitler did not want to go to war with England; that he’d hoped England would join with him to fight Bolshevism. So why the war in Western Europe?

In order to get to the Soviet Union, Hitler had to get through Poland. This led to a state of war between Germany and England. I understand Hitler’s annexation of Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland. Lebensraum, uniting German-speaking people, and all that. (Not that I agree with it, of course; only that I understand it.)

But why invade France? France and England did declare war on Germany. To get to France, the German forces had to control The Netherlands and Belgium. By defeating England, Germany’s flank would have been protected so that Hitler could persue his campaign in the East (as outlined in Mein Kampf, which I haven’t read).

Galland wrote that Stalin was in fact maneuvering to solidify his position in Eastern Europe. If Hitler wanted the oil and other resources there (e.g., in Yugoslavia), then he had no choice but to begin the Eastern campaign. But there was still England on his flank. Germany could only attack about one-tenth of England (according to Galland), leaving the rest of the country to build up its war materiel. Yet it very nearly achieved air superiority. In books I’ve read about the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force fighter cover was nearly defeated. Fortunately Hitler ordered terror bombing on London (apparently because an off-course Luftwaffe bomber bombed London, prompting the British to bomb Berlin), which gave the RAF ‘breathing space’ to recover its forces. Bombing London and other cities instead of airfields and aircraft plants allowed the RAF to turn back the aerial invasion and cause the sea invasion of Britain (Operation Sea Lion) to be cancelled. In the East, Germany came close to defeating the Russians in Moscow. But they were stopped by two famous Russian Generals: ‘General Winter’ and ‘General Mud’. (Winter came early that year.)

There were myriad reasons why Germany was defeated in the West: The shift from attacking the RAF to terror bombing, the British radar system, poor weather right at the wrong time (for Germany), the shifting of Luftwaffe units to the Eastern Front when they were needed in the West, the belief by Göring and Hitler that England could wait while they fought the Russians, the lack of long-range heavy bombers, the emphasis on offensive bombing over defensive fighters… And yet it could have worked if thing had gone to plan and Germany was just a little more lucky. The combination of bad leadership, poor timing, and bad weather almost makes it seem as if the gods were fighting on our side.

But what would have happened if Hitler had not invaded Western Europe? England and France were technically at war with Germany, but what would they have done if they were left alone? Would they have mounted a campaign against Germany? Or would they have bided their time while Hitler fought the Bolshevics? And aside from Hitler’s anti-Semitism, why persecute the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, et al? I can see no tactical or strategic advantage behind it.

As I said, this is pretty much a GQ. I’m just asking questions to expand (or correct) my understanding of the situation, and the possible outcomes if certain blunders had not been made.

Hitler was worried, and justifiably so, about leaving England as an active enemy on his western front while attacking the Soviet Union in the east. This problem would have been magnified a hundredfold if France was still in the war. In retrospect, it’s claer that France should have attacked Germany at the same time that the German army was campaigning in Poland (or in Czechoslovakia if you really want to rewrite history). But the French generals were too defensive minded. However, if Germany attacked the Soviet Union and the main forces of the German army were hundreds of miles away, the opportunity would have become too obvious for even idiots like Gamelin and Weygand to ignore.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, and it has been quite a while since I studied it in highschool, but my general understanding of the subject is:

1.- Originally, the main objective was to avoid a 2-front-war. So, Nazi Germany allied itself to one of its potential enemies (USSR) before it really started anything. Afterwards, it started the invasion of “reasonable” “enemies” (The Czek republic to protect its “Sudetendeutsche”). Finally it split Poland with the USSR to keep them happy.

2.- Germany’s main enemy was France. Actually, I remember Hitler was hoping to keep England out of the war altogether (what happens on main continental Europe stays on main continental Europe). And they might have been successful if the invasion of France hadn’t required bypassing the Maginot-line, thus invading the “neutral” Belgium and threatening England.

3.- The persecution of Jews and other “impure breeds” was not incidental; ever since the Nuremberg laws had been passed it was internal policy. It was increasing in time and simply was part of the way Nazis political platform. They’d have escalated it with or without war.

4.- The attack on USSR (which in my opinion doomed the Nazi regime) was simple paranoia combined with hubis. They feared Stalin’s attack at any moment, thought the fall of England was simply a matter of time and finally, thought they could succeed where Napoleon had failed because they had war machinery Napoleon hadn’t had.

And they got a three-front war after Germany went to North Africa to bolster the Italian forces. After Germany’s defeat there, the Allies were coming up from the South through Italy.

The funny thing is, to germans the italian army is just as laughable as the french are to americans. And, apparently, even Italy doesn’t take their own army as a force to be reckoned. Or, at least so it seems in the “Meditarraneo” movie.

I guess, after the initial plan of keeping England out of the war had failed, their best bet would have been an attack by the Japanese on the USSR. That way, Stalin would have been involved in a two front war himself and the U.S. would have kept out of the war, at least for a bit longer.

Luckily for us, the japanese (and they were right) thought their main enemy were the U.S.

The forces involved in Africa were so small compared to those in Europe, that it really can’t be called a front.

Not while they were in Africa. But once we started pouring into Italy and striking northward, I think it qualifies. (My opinion.)

Not quite. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed only a week before Hitler invaded Poland.

Aside from Hitler’s anti-Semitism, there was no reason. But the entire plot that we now refer to as the Holocaust was central to Hitler’s governing of Germany, and later of the Nazi Empire. The Nazis achieved national unity in Germany by propaganda means. The central narrative that they provided was: we in Germany and Austria are the true Aryan race, who are responsible for all the achievements of civilization. All the inferior peoples are jealous of us, and hence they are all conspiring to drag us down.

This ‘us vs. them’ mentality worked perfectly for building up Hitler’s power base. It got Nazi supporters worked up to a constant fever pitch, and it provided an excuse to shut down all opponents by force. If they had abandoned that mentality, the entire house of card would have collapsed.

While it may seem to us that the Holocaust was senseless from a tactical standpoint, it made perfect sense to the Germans. The average guy on the street in Germany had been taught that the Jews and the Soviets were the same group, and that homosexuals and other deviants were all working to pollute the genetic purity of the Master Race. Hence, the death camps were a necessary part of the war effort, from their perspective.

The invasion of France was also necessary from a propaganda standpoint. Ever since the start of his political career, Hitler had tapped in popular anger about the outcome of WWI, which the Germans viewed as primarily a French responsibility. In Mein Kampf he insisted that France must be destroyed to avenge the injustice of the Treaty of Versaille. The invasion of France was hugely popular in Germany, and helped support a groundswell of popularity for the Nazi government.

Although there was plenty of bad luck on the Germans side, they had their share of good luck too.

They were lucky in the first attacks on France that they broke through, had they been delayed by perhaps as little as 24 hours, it would have changed the war completely.

They were lucky that they didn’t try to attack the UK directly across the channel, because it would have cost them very dearly, and would definately have delayed the attack on Russia, even if they had made a succesful landing in UK, its pretty much held that this army would have been ground out, but not before it had stretched the German supply capacity beyond breaking point.

They were also lucky that Britain and France did not come in far sooner, and thrown out the policy of appeasement, Germany could not have withstood a signficant attack in those earlier years.

Had Germany attacked France and certainly Britain later, both would have been significantly better equipped, Britains air force would have been probably a third, perhaps more greater, and the Battle of Britain probaly could not have been started with any hope of a meaningful result any later given the weather.

They were fortunate that when the British were sweeping through North Africa, plenty of forces were transferred to fight the Japanese, seriously weakening them.

I still believe that at the start of the war the idea was to keep one side out of the war until it had keeled over. If England/France had agreed to some non-aggression pact before Stalin, they might have attacked the USSR first.

Over all it must have seemed clear to Hitler that he couldn’t keep on “annexing” countries without starting a war. So he took the best deal he saw and pounded on his non-ally first.

Ummm… I was trying to say “… was to keep one side out of the war until [bold]the other side[/bold] had keeled over…”

And, of course he “…took the the best deal he saw, invaded Poland as per agreement and then pounded on his most vulnerable enemy first”.

The whole reason for Hitlers war was the invasion of Russia. The invasion of France and the low countries was to cover his backside.

That’s the way it looks to me. In Mein Kampf Hitler made it clear that any expansion for the purpose of giving Germans adequate “living space” would have to be in the east.

His first attack was to the east, Poland. He seems to have thought that, just as with Austria and Czeckoslovakia, the UK and France would just stand by. However that didn’t happen and so he had to get France out of the way before he could continue his march to the east.

As I understand it, there was never any serious effort to prepare for a cross channel assault. The Germans didn’t possess the means to transport an adequate invasion force across nor the means to support it after the initial assault. And they certainly didn’t have the means to control the Channel so as to protect their supply lines for any length of time.

It would seem then, that the air assault on the UK was mainly for the purpose of knocking out any possibility that there would be any force at all in the German rear when the Soviets were attacked.

From what I’ve read it appears that Hitler really thought that after the air attacks stopped and Russia was invaded that he would be able to arrange a peace, at least temporaritly, with the UK.

Here is an earlier discussion.

There is a tendancy to think of war always as a matter of freedom vs annihilation, and this is largely informed by the conquests of WWII itself. But a view encompassing the Napoleonic/France-Prussianand First World wars indicate that the strategic goals are often to “knock out” certain nations from the game, perhaps with some territorial concessions but otherwise intact. Hitler definitely intended to consume Poland and Russia, but only wanted to “knock out” France and England from interfering with these plans. Japan attcked Pearl Harbor in order to knock the US out of Far Eastern affairs, and Hitler declared war on the US in hopes of persuading the Japanese to help in his war with the Soviets, so the myriad adversarial relationships were not always about annihilation.

I haven’t read Mein Kampf, but after my recent reading it sounds like it to me as well.

It seems that Hitler strategised himself into a box. He wanted to remove the Soviet Union as a threat. So he had to invade Poland. Due to Soviet moves in the East, he pretty much had to attack the USSR. Hence, the state of war with England and France.

His Blitzkrieg tactics worked well in Western Europe, but he still had to deal with England. Since the Spanish Civil War the Germans had used air superiority to their advantage. The only way Sea Lion could succeed would have been if the Luftwaffe had gained air superiority over England. He did wait before attacking (the ‘Phoney War’), which allowed the English to bolster the RAF. It was a close thing. Had the Germans continued the attacks on airfields and attacked the aircraft factories sooner and more agressively, they may have done it. Had Hitler waited to attack England, then the RAF would have been so much stronger and harder to beat.

So he couldn’t wait on either front. If he didn’t attack the USSR they would solidify their position in the East. If he didn’t attack England the RAF would be too strong to neutralise. He seemed to have been overconfident in Göring’s Luftwaffe, and Göring was as well. So…

From what I’m reading here and in books, the French (possibly) and the English (certainly) would have built up their forces and would have initiated war on the Western Front if he didn’t take them out of the fight first.

Once he was beaten back in England and the English went on the offensive, the only chance for Germany would have been to pour their resources into fighters. But Hitler saw fighters as defensive weapons, and he was adamant that Germany always be on the offensive. By favouring bombers over fighters, he left the Luftwaffe unable to stop the British, and later the American, bombers. Being unable to stop the bombers (even when they suffered devastating losses, which they did rather frequently), German industry was pounded. And the Anglo-American Command figured out how dependent on fuel the Germans were. No gas meant that replacement pilots could not be fully trained. Untrained pilots could not effectively use the dwindling fighter supply against the long-range escorts to get at the bombers. Although record numbers of fighters were produced in 1944, fuel shortages and the lack of trained pilots to fly them left them open to 1,000 bomber raids.

From what I’ve been reading it seems that even with the strategic blunder (or political/military necessity) of fighting on two fronts, Hitler stood a chance of achieving his goals. Only (according to Galland, who was after all a fighter pilot) his insistence that bombers were the key to victory – in spite of several warnings from the Luftwaffe to the contrary – lost Germany the chance of gaining air superiority. The ME-262 was delayed for 18 months. And when it went into production, Hitler still wanted to use it as a ‘Blitz Bomber’.

Something that struck me is the sheer number of aircraft in the ETO. When I was ten I talked my parents into buying me a book on WWII aircraft. (Six dollars, which was a lot of money in the early-'70s. I still have that book, BTW.) I knew about the ‘1,000 bomber raids’. But until I read or re-read some of my books, I really didn’t appreciate the scale. I grew up watching The Memphis Belle and 12 O’Clock High and other war films and documentaries. Sure, they mentioned large formations. But it didn’t really hit home. The movies mentione one or two or a few bombers not getting back. The books talk about tens of bombers being shot down. Sixty bombers shot down on a single mission. Six hundred men. Sometimes more, and sometimes less. But the losses were incredible. And that the losses were between three and ten percent of the force, it boggles – and remembering that there were squadrons and squadrons of escort fighters in the air as well – it must have looked like an aluminum overcast. Galland wrote that in late-1944 the Germans were losing an average of 50 fighters and 40 pilots every time they intercepted a raid. And there were raids every day. I knew the air war was bloody, but these numbers I’ve been reading are astounding.

USAAF combat fatalities in the ETO were 65% of total fatalities.

In the winter and spring of 1945 the number of aircraft raids was astonishing. We were at the little town of Florennes in Belgium. Every morning while our crews were heading for briefings the RAF planes would be returning from night raids. When crews were returning from briefings 8th AF 17’s and 24’s would be joining up to begin raids. The sky overhead was full of planes all morning and before long it was so routine we didn’t even notice it any more.