Why exactly did Germany implode during World War I but not during World War II?

Why exactly did Germany implode during World War I but not during World War II? After all, in World War I, Germany capitulated before it was fully defeated while Germany only capitulated in World War II after the Allies have already captured Berlin and almost all of the other parts of Germany as well.

As for my own thoughts in this, I would like to point out that Germany’s situation during World War II was different from Germany’s situation during World War I in various ways:

  1. While Imperial Germany treated their opponents (including anti-war activists) with kid gloves, Nazi Germany threw all of its opponents (who did not already emigrate, that is) into concentration camps or extermination camps. Thus, while people such as Rosa Luxemburg could speak out against World War I in Imperial Germany, no one could speak out against World War II in Nazi Germany without ending up in jail or in a concentration camp afterwards (which, in turn, is why almost no one is Nazi Germany actually spoke out against World War II). Thus, with the lack of an active anti-war movement in Nazi Germany, ordinary Germans might have felt less inclined to actively protest World War II and Germany’s participation in it.

  2. German military discipline might have been stricter and harsher during World War II than during World War I. For instance:


“A harsh disciplinarian, Raeder was obsessed with the fear that the Navy might “disgrace” itself as it did in the last war with High Seas mutiny of 1918, and to prevent another mutiny, Raeder imposed a “ruthless discipline” designed to terrorize his sailors into obedience.[133] Under the leadership of Raeder and even more so under his successor Karl Dönitz, it was official policy for naval courts-martial to impose the death penalty as often as possible, no matter how slight the offence, so that the sailors would fear their officers more than the enemy.[134] Historians have described Raeder as someone who “supported the Nazi regime unflinchingly and proved merciless against malingerers, deserters and those who questioned the authority of the Führer”.[135]”

Thus, there might have been less potential for a collapse of military discipline in the German military during World War II in comparison to during World War I.

  1. Unlike during (most of) World War I, Germany fought against the Soviet Union during World War II. Since the Soviet Union was (rightfully) known as an extremely monstrous, bloody, and brutal regime, German soldiers might have been too scared of Soviet reprisals against themselves, their families, their friends, and/or their country to stop fighting in the middle of World War II. Plus, while both Britain and the U.S. were much more humane than the Soviet Union was, both of them were Soviet allies and both of them also insisted on unconditional surrender to all of the Allies, including to the Soviet Union. Thus, German soldiers and German civilians might have concluded that the Western Allies would be unwilling to significantly mitigate Soviet brutality against Germany and that it’s thus better for them and for Germany to fight all the way up to the bitter end than to capitulate early (as in, to capitulate in the middle of the war).

  2. Unlike Germany’s leadership during World War I, Germany’s leadership during World War II was certainly fully committed to fighting all of the way up to the bitter end. Indeed, Hitler and the Nazis appear to have been hoping for a last-minute miracle during World War II. Plus, in addition to this, Hitler and the Nazis might have also viewed war as an end in itself rather than simply as a means to an end.

  3. Germany’s troops and population might have been much more indoctrinated during World War II than they were during World War I. After all, Imperial Germany’s propaganda certainly cannot compare to the Nazi propaganda machine between 1933 and 1945. Plus, it is worth noting that many German soldiers in World War II spent a lot of their childhoods being exposed to Nazi propaganda; after all, a German soldier who was 18 years old in 1945 was just 6 years old in 1933, when Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany.

  4. This is purely speculation on my own part, but it is possible that Germany’s food situation during World War II was less severe than Germany’s food situation during World War I due to the fact that Germany might have been much more willing to loot Eastern European food supplies during World War II than it was during World War I. Plus, unlike during World War I, Germany engaged in genocide during World War II, which in turn ensured that Germany would have less people to feed during World War II than it would otherwise have.

  5. Unlike during World War I, the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender during World War II. In turn, this might have discouraged some/many Germans from rebelling and from giving up the fight earlier (as in, in the middle of World War II).

  6. Germany’s government during World War II was less vulnerable to regime change than Germany’s government during World War I was. After all, I don’t think that Imperial Germany ever had anything comparable to the Gestapo. Plus, in regards to World War II, Adolf Hitler also certainly had the “Devil’s luck” in regards to him escaping and surviving all assassination attempts against him. For instance, when Claus von Stauffenberg and his colleagues tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to launch a coup in Germany on July 20, 1944, they failed and ended up getting executed by the Nazis. Meanwhile, after what Stauffenberg and his colleagues endured, no one in Germany had the nerve to challenge and/or to rise up against Hitler and the Nazis; after all, doing this might have very well resulted in them getting caught and executed afterwards.

Anyway, any thoughts on what I wrote here? Also, am I forgetting to list any additional relevant factors for this? If so, then please tell me! :slight_smile:

Why, exactly, do you consider that Germany “imploded” during WWI and what do you mean by the term?

That the government under the Kaiser surrendered before utter disaster is the more typical reaction of nations going back thousands of years. The Nazi’s decision to fight to the point of oblivion is the more surprising action.

Germany descended into revolution near the end of World War I and overthrew its Kaiser and its centuries-old Hohenzollern Dynasty.

Didn’t Mexico follow an approach more similar to Hitler’s approach during the Mexican-American War, though?

Germany conquered a LOT more territory in World War II, and a lot of it was very rich. The Nazis would loot the banks and national currency reserves, and exploit conquered countries treasuries, industry, farms, and people as hard as they could in order to keep Germany itself from feeling the effects of the war. It wasn’t until late in the war that people in Germany really felt the effects of the war, so there wasn’t as much time for tension to build. And by the time there were shortages, it was pretty clear that there weren’t many options.

The Allies insisted on unconditional surrender, and when various power brokers tried to talk about some kind of conditional peace or even alliance against the USSR they got told ‘unconditional to all the powers or we keep fighting’. So there wasn’t any strong benefit for a revolution or coup to take control, and most of the existing leadership knew they were going to be called to account for the mass murders and slave labor. So there wasn’t any option for Germany to give any kind of partial surrender, and the leaders knew that they were going to be called to account, so they kept fighting to the end. Regular troops did desert and surrender in droves in 1945, especially on the Western front, so there was a lot of collapse going on.

This was not an unintended consequence, it was a major policy objective. The Allies wanted Germany to be completely and unarguably crushed and beaten, to forestall any future ‘stab in the back’ myth from arising. There should be no room left for someone to say ‘we could have won if only…’ because although it meant some more casualties, it also meant Germany wouldn’t start a third world war. This video gives a good picture of how Germany was viewed by the Western allies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvcf9DKSpPw

Militarily, the collapse was pretty much the same. When Germany was still strong during WW1, an allied push into German-held territory would typically cost at least 10,000 allied lives (as high as 50,000) in one day. During the final push, the British and Americans were surprised to lose only 2,500 in one day, so that was a major indicator.

There had been a fairly large Socialist party in Wilhelmine Germany. Bismarck had persecuted it, more or less banning the party in 1878, but it was sort of a half-assed persecution, and when he resigned in 1890, the party was legalized again and more or less made accommodations with the government, even going so far as to vote war credits in 1914. At the same time, though, there was a rejectionist left wing of the party (some of whom would, during WWI, go on to create what was called the Spartacus League, which would go on to become the Communists.)

What all this means is that there was an organized opposition to the government at the end of WWI, led by people who had experience in actual governing and organization. At the end of WWII, that wasn’t the case.

It should be noted that while the Hohenzollerns were indeed a centuries-old dynasty, they started out as small fry ( originally in southern Germany ) and really only became a substantial power later in the 18th century. The German Empire was less than 50 years old and was functionally still something of a hodepodge politially - when it was formed in 1871 some 40% of the population came from non-Hohenzollern-ruled territories. It’s not like there was some universal ingrained loyalty to the ruling dynasts.

Interestingly the Kaiser for some reason (probably because he was monumentally stupid throughout much of his life) thought that he would be able to weather the revolution while keeping his crown intact, but with vastly reduced legal powers. When he quickly realized that wasn’t possible, he actually thought that at the very least he’d be able to continue on as King of Prussia. When the German Empire was formed by Bismarck essentially putting the German Imperial Crown on Wilhelm I’s head in 1871, several of the subordinate German states were Kingdoms, that retained their Kings–four actually, Bavaria, Saxony, Prussia and Württemberg.

Wilhelm felt that since he was all along both Kaiser and King of Prussia, that the two titles could be separated, just as the King of Bavaria could still be King without being Emperor, so too could he. But Bismarck didn’t want to leave the supremacy of Prussia ever in doubt in the Empire he had forged, and the constitution specifically made clear that the Prussian King didn’t hold “both titles in personal union” but rather the Prussian King was Emperor, and to hold one title was to hold the other. So without constitutional changes (which were never going to happen in the climate of the revolution) this left Wilhelm without any realistic legal avenue to pursue abdicating as Kaiser but retaining the Prussian crown. So he would have to actually maintain the monarchy as it was to keep any crown.

When both Ludendorff and Hindenburg made clear they and their men would not fight against popular uprisings to maintain the monarchy, Wilhelm had no choice but to abdicate on November 9th. Even had he had the legal mechanism to just abdicate the Imperial Crown it’s unlikely it’d have mattered, all of the other German monarchs were quickly pushed out of power as well, Bavaria and Saxony’s Kings went on 13 November and Württemberg’s King abdicated on 30 November. All the Grand Dukes, Dukes and Princes who were monarchs over the various constituent states of Imperial Germany were forced out around the same time window. Some went on to pretty ignoble lives afterward. The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Charles Edward (also a prince in the British royal family, a grandson of Queen Victoria and Duke of Albany), went on to be a leader of the SS, and was imprisoned (in his vast former royal residence) for several years and then heavily fined by a post-war tribunal and dispossessed of most of his property (he’s frankly lucky to have gotten off as easily as he did.) Several of the other deposed monarchs and their families also were relatively early supporters of Nazism.

Interestingly note how the war ended for the Kaiser, his generals chose to end it, because they had functionally been running the country for a long time and he had been relegated to puppet status. In theory Hitler’s more powerful generals nearer to the end could’ve done the same, and effectively removed Hitler from power and then unconditionally surrendered to the allies. This would’ve avoided some bloodshed and some economic devastation but obviously Germany still would’ve been occupied and partitioned. At the end of the day though, Hitler wasn’t the Kaiser. He had a powerful secret police and had executed generals before who underestimated him. When the only reward was unconditional surrender none of the generals (other than literally at the very end) were willing to try and push Hitler out of power, because unlike the toothless Kaiser there were serious risks involved in trying that route if the rest of the military didn’t go along with you.

The Germans had just killed ten million Russians. They knew they would be offered no quarter.

No group of people in history has ever been as furious as the Red Army in 1945 - and the Germans knew it.

The rise of Hitler was in part caused by Germany’s incomplete defeat in World War I - the famous ‘stab in the back’. In 1918 many German leaders probably assumed and hoped for the peace to still be reasonably amicable, as Germany had agreed to lay down arms. They were horrified at Versailles (regardless of how much worse it actually could have been coughBrest-Litovskcough), and fully expected the peace of the Second World War even worse, especially given the atrocities the Germans had taken part in.

Put simply, there was no incentive for the Germans to seek a negotiated peace in WW2 because, given their experience in WW1, it would be awful, and nobody would be seen as a hero for attaining it.

No. Mexico never unconditionally surrendered to the United States, and the United States never occupied all of Mexico nor deposed the Mexican government. (The Mexicans themselves deposed Santa Anna.) The two countries agreed on a peace treaty.

It absolutely was, particularly as the end drew near. Apart from what you have noted, Hitler authorized the establishment of SS flying court martials in the last months of the war to pronounce summary judgements and carry out executions.

An example of this was the summary trial of five officers found guilty of failing to prevent the Allies from capturing the Ludendorff Bridge during the Battle of Remagen on 7 March 1945. On the direct order from Adolf Hitler, Generalleutnant Rudolf Hübner tried Major Hans Scheller, Captain Willi Bragte, Lt. Karl Heinz Peters, Maj. Herbert Strobel and Maj. August Kraft. Hübner, who had no legal experience, acted as both prosecutor and judge. He conducted extremely brief show trials during which he harangued the defendants for their alleged command failures, and then pronounced sentence. All of the officers were sentenced to death. Except for Bratge, who had been captured, the others were taken to a nearby woods within 24 hours and executed with a shot to the back of the neck and buried where they fell.

This is seriously putting the cart in front of the horse; as monstrous, bloody, and brutal of a regime as the Soviet Union was the Nazis were by far worse and the reason the Germans were scared of Soviet reprisals was because of what they had just themselves done to the Russians. Alessan really hit the nail on the head on this one. The entire point of the war as far as the Nazis were concerned was to take lebensraum in the East and murder or reduce to slavery all of the untermensch who happened to be living there. Einsatzgruppen had murdered more than 2 million people in the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945, and 3.3 million Soviet POWs were murdered through deliberate starvation, neglect, shootings, or forced labor. The Nazis had just murdered millions of Russians; German soldiers had a reason to be afraid.

Also very true, the end of the war was seen as Götterdämmerung; if there was to be no last minute miracle Hitler and the Nazi leadership were willing to take Germany down with them. Hitler’s political last will blames the German people for failing him.

This certainly makes sense! :slight_smile: Also, though, couldn’t Germany have taken a lot of Eastern European food to feed its own population during World War I as well?

Yes, all of this certainly makes sense. :slight_smile:

Yes, I am certainly well-aware of this. :slight_smile: Indeed, here is what FDR himself had to say on this topic:

“There are two schools of thought, those who would be altruistic in regard to the Germans, hoping by loving kindness to make them Christians again — and those who would adopt a much ‘tougher’ attitude. Most decidedly I belong to the latter school, for though I am not bloodthirsty, I want the Germans to know that this time at least they have definitely lost the war.”

Also, though, thank you very much for sharing that YouTube video! :slight_smile: I watched all of it and it was certainly very interesting! :slight_smile: Indeed, do you know of any other similar interesting propaganda videos about this?

Yes; very good point! However, the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans also got overthrown in the 1918-1922 time period. Indeed, I think that both the Hapsburgs’ and the Ottomans’ subjects had a much longer history being under their rule than many of the Hohenzollerns’ subjects had.

Yes–as I said in my first post here, unlike Nazi Germany, Imperial Germany often treated its (political) opponents with kid gloves.

Yes, all of this appears to be correct!

Yes, all of this also appears to be correct! :slight_smile: Interestingly enough, though, the fact that the German Army no longer supported the German Kaiser indicates that the home front was not the only place where people believed that Germany was fighting a lost war in late 1918.

Agreed. Also, though, after the failure of the July 20th Plot, none of the surviving German generals wanted to share the fate of the July 20th coup plotters. Thus, this might have also motivated these German generals not to try overthrowing Hitler and the Nazis after July 20, 1944.

Actually, the total Soviet death toll in World War II was 20-27 million rather than 10 million. :frowning:

If so, then why exactly didn’t the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch succeed? Also, if so, then why exactly were the Nazis a fringe party in Germany until the start of the Great Depression?

Agreed. Also, though, the Brest-Litovsk was only worse due to the fact that Russia had more non-Russians living on its territory than Germany had non-Germans. After all, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was largely drawn based on ethnic lines. Indeed, Russia’s post-1991 borders in the west are very similar to those which were established by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (but also with the loss of Belarus, which the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk allowed Russia to keep).

Yes, very good point! :slight_smile:

Thank you very much for sharing all of this information!

While all of this is certainly correct, it is also worth noting that extreme Soviet brutality certainly preceded the 1941 Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. After all, in the Great Purge(s) of the late 1930s, thousands or tens of thousands of loyal Soviet government officials were rewarded for their loyalty with a bullet to the back of their head. :frowning:

Yes; correct! Plus, as I previously said, the Nazis might have viewed the fight against “International Jewry” as being an end in itself rather than as a means to an end. With such a mentality, it certainly made sense for the Nazis to continue the war as long as possible. After all, as Ernst Rohm said in 1933, “Only the real, the true, the masculine held its value.”

Two factors, both having to do with terror.

  1. As already mentioned, the Germans were righty terrified of Russian vengeance. Some in the German military harbored the delusion that, if only they got rid of Hitler and his SS fanatics, they could ‘cut a deal’ with the Western Allies that would allow them to at least keep some of their eastern holdings - this was part of the thinking of the conspirators who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Once that plot failed, all Germans - even those who were indifferent to, or hated, Nazism and Hitler - had no choice but to fight to the last: the alternative was to face Russian vengeance for the horrors committed by the German army in the east.

  2. Internal terrorism by the Nazis. Up to the very end, the Nazi terror apparatus kept functioning - for example, hanging ‘deserters’ from lamp-posts even during the final battle in Berlin. In a society thoroughly penetrated by Nazi informers, and that had grown used to Nazi oppression and terror, a mass resistance movement was not possible - the only one that developed was not a mass movement, but the above-noted military attempt to assassinate Hitler, based on a reasonably small conspiracy among certain officers.