Hitler was a gambler. Defeating France, Great Britain AND Russia was always a long shot, and yet, he almost managed to pull it off. A few more lucky breaks, a few fewer mistakes, and he might actually have wound up as master of Europe.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, where did he go wrong? What was his biggest blunder? Here are some candidates … feel free to add your own if you can justify them.
Concentrating on taking Paris instead of destroying the British army before it could be evacuated.
Switching primary targets during the Battle of Britain away from the British radar installations and airfields to London and other civilian targets.
Failing to give Rommel the troops he needed to capture Egypt.
Getting sidetracked in the Balkans, delaying the launch of Operation Barbarossa.
Getting involved in a land war in Asia. (Launching Barbarossa at all.)
Declaring war on the United States after Pearl Harbor.
Opening a second Russian front in the Caucasus.
Refusing to allow the Sixth Army to retreat from Stalingrad.
The invasion of the Soviet Union. Germany didn’t have the logistic base to defeat the Soviets as long as they just kept fighting.
Destroying the British army at Dunkirque would have been a heavy blow if it could be followed up and a successful invasion. But that was by no means certain. A successful invasion would have denied us the use of Britain as a base and I doubt that we could have landed and maintained a sufficient force in Europe to defeat Germany when operating from a base in the US.
However, the Soviets didn’t need Britain’s help. By the time Britain had recovered and the US was in the war to any extent, Stalingrad had occurred and it was down hill for the Germans in the east from then on.
I agree that the invasion of the Soviet Union was the greatest blunder. I agree that once Hitler did that – the odds were pretty slim the Reich was going to survive. I would add subset many of the things already mentioned made this decision worse:
1a Opening a second Russian front in the Caucasus.
1b Refusing to allow the Sixth Army to retreat from Stalingrad.
1c Facing the inevitable defeat now, he decides to devote a large percentage of his military and resources to the extermination of a people who weren’t harming his war effort – to the point of giving extermination trains priority over military transports
IOW all except the last was just duma$$ery added to an already foolish decision and the last was just b@tsh^t crazy.
So many worthy nominees for stupidest Hitlerian mistake…
One more - getting into a full-scale war without stockpiling enough U-boats to blockade Britain. At the beginning of the conflict Germany had very few subs - and most of those were not suited to long-range patrols. If the U-boat buildup had occurred earlier, Hitler might have been able to achieve his goal of starving the British into submission.
I think that unnecessarily declaring war on the US was also a serious blunder. Hitler had a low opinion of the US and I think he underestimated the speed with which we could rebuild the Pacific Fleet and organize in the Atlantic. My view is that he was annoyed by our actions against the U-boats in the Atlantic and thought that by declaring war the U-boats could handle our relatively weak Atlantic Fleet, and especially so if we had to send most of the fleet to the Pacific to shore up things there.
I agree that devoting a lot of time and effort to exterminating people in the camps was a large hindrance. I believe a large part of the scientific community was Jews that left the country. Maybe they could have had “the bomb” first.
Treating the Soviet Union like an occupied country before he finished occupying all of it. Stalin and the Communists were bad enough that over a million Soviets were willing to fight for the Germans even though Hitler opposed the idea. If Hitler had been smarter (and there were people advising him to do this) he’d have pretending he was only opposed to Communism rather than determining to exterminate Russia. He could have ten million pro-German Soviets fighting against ten million anti-German Soviets while the German army stood back and let other people do all the fighting and dying.
Other big mistakes:
Not converting to a military economy until very late in the war.
Declaring war on the United States.
Not making an arrangement with Japan to have them invade Siberia.
Not building a strategic bomber force.
Not putting enough resources into his navy.
Spending too much money building prototype weapons and not enough building actual weapons for field use.
Not sealing off the Mediterranean by seizing Gibraltar and Aden.
One huge blunder was Hitler’s belief that he could get the British to sue for peace, while being determined that Russia must be annihilated. In fact, it was probably closer to the over way around. As long as Churchill was prime minister, the British would almost certainly never have sought terms. In the east, Germany could have gained the non-Russian portions of the USSR (Ukraine, Belarussia, etc.) either by negotiating a truce during the first few weeks when Stalin was demoralized by the German success, or else Hitler could have liberated a grateful western USSR instead of stupidly brutalizing them.
I would say going in too many directions & too far. He should have left the west alone, concentrated on the east, & co-opted middle & eastern European countries into helping him dispossess the USSR. I expect a lot of national leaders would have let him steal territory from Stalin, & even helped. Once he had a sustainable area of Black Sea coast under German control, further geopolitical ambitions would have been simple overreaching greed.
Not that it matters, since Hitler’s geopolitical eyes were always bigger than his stomach, or rather Germany’s ability to absorb such an empire.
Actually his mistakes in the East were long before Stalingrad.
He invaded Russia. That was the biggest mistake. Without that, the war may have ended quite differently.
He invaded Russia too late in the year. Rather than invade in late June, he should have invaded in late May.
He should have captured Moscow the first year. That should have been the #1 goal for the invasion.
In the second summer, instead of bothering with the Army Group South offensives near Stalingrad and Belgorod, he should have attacked with Army Group Center toward Moscow again. Cutting Moscow out of the picture would have seriously hampered Soviet rail movement, as well as disrupted the government and military command pretty seriously.
Beyond those obvious mistakes, he should have listened to Donitz, and gone to unrestricted u-boat warfare much earlier, and as the primary means of naval war. Imagine if the first “happy time” had had twice the number of u-boats, and a lot more Type VIIs. They potentially could have starved Britain out.
The canard about the “delayed” Barbarossa, and how the Balkan campaign may
have contributed to said delay is a false one. The mud season lasted late into
spring that year and they basically had to wait for the roads to get dry.
I’m not sure, aside from the morale hit, if taking Moscow would have really made
that much of a difference in the long run. Come 1942 you still have a Russian
empire mobilizing its huge reserves of manpower and natural resources. I don’t
think the Germans had the logistics to go significantly beyond the Moscow
perimeter in any event.
The Caucasus campaign was initiated precisely because the Russians had placed
most of their crack troops in front of Moscow. The Germans simply did what they
did best, embark on another round of manuever warfare, which worked pretty
well, for awhile. Any 1942 Moscow campaign would have turned into a bloody
slogging match (similar to Stalingrad actually but 3x as nasty).
In my view after all I’ve read on the subject, I really don’t think there’s any way to
rescue Barbarossa from a military point of view. Just about all long-term trends
were running against the Germans from day one. The biggest mistake was doing
the invasion in the first place.
Invading Russia, while virtually certainly doomed no matter what he did, was not a mistake - it was his entire reason for going to war, his raison d’etre, and had been since writing *Mein Kampf *at least. Without that he doesn’t bother going to war at all, and he’s not the historical Hitler.
As to the suggestions in the OP:
the capture of Paris did not stop the destruction of the British army at Dunkirk - the evacuation finished on June 4 and Paris fell on June 14. What stopped the Germans at Dunkirk was Hitler’s nervousness, the fatigue and losses of the German army (especially the panzers), and Goering’s jealousy of the army getting all the glory.
the primary Axis problem in North Africa was supplies (especially petrol) and replacements, not troops per se. More Germans there mean more convoys to run past Malta and more lost Italian freighters - and there weren’t that many to start with. Also the North African ports had very limited capacity, the roads and few railways also. Not taking Malta is a better candidate in this area, but after the destruction of their paratroops in Crete he was reluctant to try the same trick again.
there was no choice about declaring war on the US, they were obligated by treaty with the Japanese. In any case he was still hoping to get them to attack Russia, so going along with them was necessary.
by the time the Causasus front and Stalingrad happened (summer 42) he had already lost the war. The one tiny chance he had at that stage was to take Moscow, nothing else could possibly have defeated Russia by then. In any case by then Allied intelligence knew his plans before his troops did, so almost nothing was going to work; the whole summer 42 campaign in Russia was a giant trap he fell into.
His biggest miscalculation IMO was going to war when he did. He didn’t think the Allies would go to war over Poland, as they hadn’t over Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, Austria or the Ruhr. He and his generals and admirals thought it would happen in maybe 1942. But of course by then the Allies are better prepared, the Russians are over the damage caused by the purge of the officer corp and the losses from the Finnish war, so his actual chances of victory are probably worse if anything. By luck rather than design he started the war at an almost ideal time for himself. It would have been a lot more likely that the war went better for the Allies than for the Axis, they did pretty much as well as could be expected, all things considered.
What would that have done? Obviously it would be a big moral hit, but 350,000 British soldiers is really nothing more than a drop in the bucket. It was the Navy and Airforce protecting Britain at that point. Losing the army would not have changed that.