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Domestically, he had already started to achieve his aims, beginning his ethnic cleansing, and changing government policies on many issues. It was well known at the time that Hitler planned to have lebensraum – living space – for his citizens. He started off by occupying Austria, and convincing France and Britain that the status of Austria was an internal affair. Hitler then invaded the Sudetenland in what was known as Czechoslovakia. Even though Russia already had a protection pact with the Czechs, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime-minister at the time, stuck with the policy of appeasement, meaning that Europe gave the Germans what they wanted in order to avoid war.
The last straw came when, on September 1st 1939, the first German armies marched into Poland, with plans to invade. On September 3, the British and French surprised Hitler by declaring war on Germany. The Anglo-French military plan was based on France remaining on the defensive behind the heavily guarded Maginot Line while Britain built up its military potential for a long war. The French were not prepared to take the risk of attacking even the lightly defended German Siegfried Line while the German army was engaged in defeating Poland.
This may have been a big mistake, because once Germany finished with Poland, it turned its attention to France. Using Blitzkrieg (Lightning war) tactics, the German army swept Europe. They had great early success, but eventually lost the war. There are not many events in World War II that can be denied, whatever side of the story a witness is on, but there are many possible arguments as to why the Germans lost, such as Operation Barbarossa or the declaration of war on the USA, and this essay will try to find out which were the most important.
The first argument as to why Germany lost the war is its axis. Germany was allied with two countries, Japan and Italy. Japan were not really fascist, but they did want to expand their empire, and so set about invading China and many small Pacific islands. So how did Japan hinder Germany? On 7th December 1941, the Japanese attacked a US naval base at Pearl Harbour, hoping to take out the American fleet before the Americans entered the war.
The Americans at the time were undecided whether to join the Alliance or not, but this certainly made their mind up for them. The US declared war on Japan immediately. Then came what some call one of Hitler’s worst decisions. On the other hand it can also be said that the USA were always going to come into the war anyway, so this decision was not necessarily a bad one. The day after Pearl Harbour, Hitler declared war on the States.
This declaration not only made America form the Grand Alliance with Britain, France and Russia, it gave the allies thousands more fresh troops, vehicles and equipment.
Italy was not much help either. Hitler’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 – 1939, (he used his new weapons to support the fascist Franco) brought him into collaboration with Mussolini, the Italian leader who was also supporting the fascists against the Republicans.
But when World War II began in 1939, Mussolini told Hitler that he was under no obligation to help Germany because he had made it clear to the Nazis that Italy would not be prepared for war until 1942.
On July 10, 1943, Allied forces invaded Sicily. Then in early 1944, Italy had a change of government that decided it was against the Germans.
The failure of the Japanese and the defeat of Italy at the hands of the Allies, weakened the German cause..
The next contributor to Germany’s loss was the Battle of the Atlantic. The key point to remember about this factor is that without the Allied boats getting across the ocean, they would have had no supplies, so everything that happened on land depended on the outcome of this battle.
In 1940 the Germans launched U-boats (submarines) from many ports around Europe, which headed for the Atlantic. In 1941 the USA entered the war, and so relied on its convoys to get to Europe. The U-boats went on the rampage and sank many ships due to lack of protection over the seas.
A crucial turning point towards defeat for the Germans came in 1943 when the allies took a great technological and strategic leap forward. They designed a sound wave system that sent rays into the sea. If the rays were hit by something large then the ships knew they were under attack and could deal with the problem. With newly designed depth-charges and air cover, the Allies sank 273 U-boats that year, and the US released far more tonnage from its ports than the German’s could possibly sink. The U-boats were withdrawn from the Atlantic.
The fact that the Germans could not win this battle heralded a significant turning point in the war. The allied convoys now had very little opposition in the Atlantic and so they could deliver thousands more troops as well as much needed supplies and equipment to the soldiers in Europe. The strengthening and freshening of the allied troops gave a great morale boost to them, and so Germany’s failure to deal with the Atlantic cost them dear in Europe.
By 1941, the Germans were steadily bombing British factories and civilians. If they had continued to do this they would have inevitably finished Britain off, for it was not a country with great industrial strength. This brings us to what was most likely Hitler’s worst mistake. He decided to stop the bombing of Britain and turn his attention instead to invading Russia. This took the heat off Britain while it rapidly recovered and recouped its military strength.
The invasion of Russia was called Operation Barbarossa. Hitler thought that he could have Russia invaded by the end of the summer, but he did not take into account some factors that contributed greatly to his loss.
One was that he would have to split his troops up, making them weaker. Also, since Russia is on the East of Germany, and Britain and France on the West, he would have to fight a war on two fronts. It was a great risk as he had no way of knowing whether the army could take on such a task.
Russia was far too big for Blitzkrieg, and the Russian roads were awful making it very hard for the Germans to move around quickly. Russia was also given a huge amount of assistance by the allies, and especially Britain. “Her supremacy at sea meant that Russia could be kept supplied by the North Atlantic route to Murmansk, while the bombing of German factories helped constrain the German war base.”- Aspects of British Political History 1914 – 1995 – Stephen J. Lee.
All this allied aid to Russia made the invasion last a lot longer than Hitler had planned. The Germans could not handle the Russian winter. With temperatures falling as low as -30 degrees, the Germans were ill-equipped to survive. To make things worse, the Russians were extremely clever. As they retreated, they burned down everything in sight, so that the Germans had no supplies, bases or communication.
The Russians were courageous. They defended every last building on every street to the last the man. Two great examples of this are the siege of Leningrad and the attack on Stalingrad by the German army. Both times Hitler’s forces were defeated. It could be argued that the Germans were defeated solely by the experience and bravery of the Russians. While it is true that their courage and durability cannot be denied, an alternative viewpoint is that Hitler’s naivety and stubbornness were as equally important.
This links in with the next big factor. Hitler did not have a good relationship with his generals. He did not take advice when he could help it and did not respond well to what we now call constructive criticism.
Indeed, in 1944, Hitler was so unpopular with some German officers and civilians, they decided to try and assassinate him. On July 20 they tried to kill him by placing a bomb in his headquarters in East Prussia. The bomb exploded wounding a number of officers but inflicting only minor injuries on Hitler.
It was during Operation Barbarossa that Hitler had most of his arguments with his officers and generals. As time passed the plan to invade Russia looked more and more overambitious. Even when defeat became certain, Hitler still refused to give up. A good example of this is when one of his top generals, who was leading the German attack of Stalingrad, sent a message to Hitler telling him that defeat was inevitable, and asking permission to surrender or retreat. Hitler became angry and sent a message back demanding that his soldiers fight to the last man.
Just weeks after this message was sent, the Red Army defeated the Germans, who surrendered willingly.
Another problem with Hitler’s ambition to invade Russia was that it was driven by his absolute hatred of communism, not by what was tactically the best thing to do. We know now that to be thinking with ones heart instead of head. It was unnecessary mistakes like these that greatly contributed to the Germans’ loss of the war. Though some could say that he was trying to be a brave leader, and that he genuinely believed he was right, the evidence suggests that this was instead lack of understanding and experience.
The Battle of Britain was also a key turning point in the war.
Invasion was the only way finish Britain, but that meant crossing the English Channel. Hitler could not risk the crossing unless the Royal Air Force (RAF) could be destroyed first. As a result, the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, not on land.
In August 1940 the Germans launched raids against ports and airfields and then in September against cities. What the Germans did not expect was the technological advances made by the allies. In particular was a new radar system, which let the British fighters know where the Germans were, greatly increasing effectiveness. But, what surpassed even this feat was the fact that the British broke the German code called Enigma, and so could intercept their messages.
Also, one of Hitler’s mood swings resulted in the order of a change in strategy by the German air force. They were to switch their attacks from RAF airfields to London and other cities, beginning the Blitz. Though the bombing of civilians must have made an impact on the country morally, it did no harm to Britain militarily. Hitler had once again made a great mistake, costing him money, time, lives and the defeat of Britain. On September 17, 1940, Hitler cancelled the invasion and in doing so conceded defeat in the Battle of Britain.
In conclusion, it is clear that all of these factors contributed to the defeat of the German army. However, some of these factors were short term, some were long term and some can not be described as either. For example, Hitler’s naivety and failure to listen to advice was obviously a long term effect, because it caused him to make what most would call wrong decisions throughout the war. The invasion of Russia on the other hand was a shorter term effect, as it defeated him there and then, leaving him open to attack from the West.
It is also easy to see links between many of the reasons. Had Hitler won the battle of the Atlantic, the Allies in Europe would probably not have had enough equipment or supplies to survive. Had he continued with his bombing of the RAF instead of bombing cities, he would have won the Battle of Britain and so been able to invade the island. These links are endless.
It could easily be argued that D-day was among the most important factors, but this essay has chosen not to include for a simple reason. Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, and so the USA declared war on them. But, up till then, the Germans had done nothing to hurt the USA directly. If Hitler had thought this through and not declared war on the USA, they might never have entered the war.
Finally, this essay believes that it was not inevitable that Germany would lose the war. Hitler’s invasion of Russia and the subsequent defeat was the single most important reason for Germany’s defeat. Even if the Allies had not had America on their side, the mixture of Russian resolve, allied strength and Hitler’s mistakes would have ultimately defeated the Germans.