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Why did Germany lose World War II, Despite its Victories Early in the War?

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Why did Germany lose World War II, Despite its Victories Early in the War?


As in Worald War I, Germany's primary downfall was its lack of adequate allies and a war on multiple fronts. Territorially, Hitler came very close in World War II to achieving his quest for lebensraum yet his failure to concentrate his resources proved disastrous. His lack of time spent organizing the conquered territories resulted in wide spread rebellions which in turn separated German forces. The North African campaign absorbed troops that were much needed on the Russian front. The failure of the V2 rocket in the final stages hindered the German offensives. The Allies combination of well-organized troops, weaponry, resources and a little luck in the closing stages of the war placed pressure on the already weakening Germany. Despite the early successes from Poland to France, the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Russia assured 'the fatherland' of a war against the world. A war almost impossible to win.

German preparation began well before the eve of war in 1939 with the invasion of Poland. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he was able to build, at first secretly, an army, navy and airforce despite the treaty of Versailles disallowing Germany to maintain a proper army. By this time he had built a very powerful war machine. Despite threats from the west the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, the annexation of Austria, Bohemis-Moravia and Memel in 1938 and 1939 happened without retaliation. The British, after declaring war on Germany on the 1st September 1939 did little to assist Poland who surrendered three weeks later. This helped to convince Hitler he was immune to international reaction. With the temporally secured threat from Russia on hold, Nazi forces in 1940 occupied Denmark and attacked Norwegian ports, securing iron ore imports from Sweden, which were vital for Germany's war effort.

Using overwhelming Blitzkrieg tactics or 'lightning war' Germany's mission was to quickly defeat and occupy a nation before assistance from the west would arrive. After a period of 'Phony war' Holland, Belgium and France were defeated in quick succession (operation case yellow) in 1940 where British forces were forced to evacuate France. After these quick defeats with little resistance the Wermarch (German army) was poised to invade England.

In the Battle of Britain, 1940, the Luftwaffe sought to achieve air supremacy in the first major confrontation of the war. Many believe this was the major turning point for Germany. Hitler's order to annihilate the Royal Air Force (RAF) was to prepare the way for Operation Seelowe (Sealion) which consisted of three massive armies invading on the south coast of England. It was at this time Germany began to suffer setbacks. Under the orders of the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering began in early June the 'softening-up attacks' on British coastal areas and convoys. By the 13th of August or 'Eagle Day' the all-out air battle began, yet the Germans failed to destroy vital British air warning and radar systems which were much more advanced than their own. This was the first phase of the battle and although German losses were twice that of Britain Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Downing (Commanding-in-Chief, RAF Fighter Command) was facing difficulties as replacement fighter numbers dwindled. It was at this time Germany adopted a new approach and reasoned that by attacking the airfields in the southeast they could force the RAF to expose its remaining strength in its defense, which in the beginning seemed promising yet the plan from the start was a gamble. As Wagener stated 'with the prospect of achieving complete air superioty in sight, an enemy hardly able to resist any longer was given an invaluable breather'

The 15th September marked the 'Battle of Britain Day' and the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF, having persistently underestimated the capacities of the British fighter defense. Hitler had pushed the date of Operation Sealion back until it was deemed too risky and the Soviet Union took precedent over Britain in Hitler's agenda. It was a 'silent victory' for Britain; it enhanced Britain's position internationally and boosted anti-German feeling amongst its people, which was vital for a total war effort against Germany. Germany had taken its first step back and the Luftwaffe never fully recovered throughout the war.

The German army failed to evade England and it had also failed to capture 338 000 British soldiers who due to the 'miracle' of Dunkirk were able to escape back to the shores of England. Britain's 'silent victory' boosted her confidence; its small number of bombing planes with fighter backing began raids on Germany, which over the next three years destroyed much of the German war industry. Other chinks in the German armour began to appear which at first seemed insignificant. The occupied territories began to resist, guerrilla fighters began to emerge causing sabotage and in particular in Greece, tying up fighting divisions.

Hitler's biggest mistake perhaps was to declare war on Russia which had never successfully been invaded before. The Russians had three advantages; the size of the country, its large army and its ally the Russian winter. Before the attack Hitler signed a new German-Russian treaty and as a result Russia was unprepared for the German onslaught. As Ronald Heiferman stated 'Never had deception so brilliantly been achieved' When Germany invaded Russia (Operation Barbarossa) they did so in the mistaken belief that war would be over in a few months and were equipped only for summer fighting. The attack was launched on three fronts, in the north towards Leningrad, in the south towards the Ukraine and centre towards Moscow with initial surprisingly successful advances. Within ten days the Luftwaffe had already won air supremacy, the Germans were encircling Russian defenders and the Nazi legions had already captured 1200 tanks, 600 big guns and 150 000 prisoners. Hitler sought much needed resources in Russia and Germany's main objective was to capture the Leningrad-Moscow-Volga line. This three-pronged attack was aimed at capturing production centres in Ukraine and the Donetz basin securing oil, mineral deposits and grain while also possessing the command of the Black and Baltic seas.

On the 3rd July Russian citizens were called upon to adopt a 'scorched earth' policy where if forced to evacuate nothing of value was to be left behind. As German morale dwindled with the changing weather and increased resistance the Russian partisan groups were becoming more active as they exalted heavy tolls on supply convoys.

The Germans captured Riga, Smolensk and Kiev and in August 1942 they attacked Stalingrad to secure the oilfields of Cacasus. After Hitler's orders to split his forces in 1942 the sixth army, was directed to capture Stalingrad where others moved south. The sixth army was forced to surrender in January 1943 after being encircled by the Russians. Winston Churchill said at the time 'this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning' As a result of the failure to capture Stalingrad the Russians took the offensive which is considered a major turning point in the war that Germany was to lose.

Hitler prioritized the capturing of the oilfields saying that Moscow was little more than a 'geographical location'. This was a fateful misjudgment on Hitler's behalf for had German Generals Bock pressed on towards Moscow the Russians may have surrendered by the end of summer.

Russian resistance was stiff and although the German had victories in the south, their cost was far more then their gain. Unlike Germany the Russians were prepared to lose hundreds of thousands of men and were prepared to sacrifice equipment as shown in their victory at Kursk. German troops lacked adequate winter clothing and rations, vehicles had frozen or were short of lubricants or fuel and vital communication and supply lines were overextended.

On the 5th July 1943 Operation Citadel was launched as Germany was in much need of a victory. One million soldiers and 2700 tanks attacked yet the Russians were ready and possibly alerted in advance by the Lucy Ring (spy network which operated outside Switzerland) They attacked Russian held positions at Kursk, north of Stalingrad in what was to be the greatest tank battle of the war. Within seven days the Germans were defeated as they failed to gain air superioty. There were heavy losses on both sides but they were much more fatal to Germany's war effort.

The deeper Germany got into Russia the more difficult it was for them to supple front line troops, and when the Russian winter set in the tide began to turn. The surrender of General Von Paulus and some 600 000 German soldiers was the beginning of the end for the Russian campaign and only a small proportion of the German army was able to retreat to mainland Europe. Just as Napoleon had said in 1812 'Nothing is more dangerous to us than a prolonged war' so was it true for the Germans in the 1940's. These two recent defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk put an end to German hopes of victory against the Soviet Union. It is estimated that German losses totaled over 9 million killed, missing, wounded or captured. As Anne McCallum stated 'If the blitzkrieg in the west did not require the Germans to make sacrifices of total war, the war in the east was without precedent for it's veracity'

Whilst Germany was losing decisively in Russia the North African campaign was absorbing much needed troops and resources. Rommel's request for extra tank divisions fell on deaf ears in the African campaign. After the Allies well planned offensive, which drove Rommel's lines back to El Alheila and liberated the port of Tobruk the Afrika Korps launched an extremely successful counter attack (Operation Torch) yet it could not be sustained as his stocks of fuel had been seriously depleted. The haggard Afrika Korps were forced to surrender in Tunis in 1942. Hitler's preoccupation with Operation Barbarossa and the failure of the supreme German staffs to take the African war seriously was yet another loss in the German decline.

Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States of America (USA) in support of its Axis ally, Japan in December 1941 was made before the defeats in Russia. Hitler was convinced that due to Japans bombing of Pearl Harbour the USA would be preoccupied with Japan in the pacific. President Roosevelt correctly assumed that Hitler posed a larger and more dangerous threat. For this reason American troops were sent to North Africa and Europe. The impact of American forces and more particularly their ability to supply enormous amounts of material made it possible for an invasion of Europe by the Allies. While the war was still long and bitter the German forces were far from defeated, the German surrender was insight.

Italy fell to the Allies after only thirty-nine days of fighting in July 1943. This was a major blow to German moral and tied up yet more fighting divisions. Italy also provided the Allies with valuable foundations for their bombers, this coupled with the D-Day invasion proved fatal for Germany.

Germany's innovative weapon, the V2 rocket may have changed the outcome if the Allies D-Day invasion had it been ready. To Germany's loss the vengeance weapon was not ready, wasting much time and many resources.

The 6th June 1944 posed the beginning of the end for Germany with the D-Day offensive. Allied troops landed in Normandy and along the French coast in massive numbers as Germany struggled and in a few weeks France was liberated. As the Allies moved through Belgium towards Germany, Hitler's final attempt at victory in a German offensive known as The Battle of The Bulge had failed. The U.S. forces played a decisive factor in the Allied success. This proved the end for Germany and in 1945 was invaded on two fronts and in April, Berlin fell to Russian troops. Germany had now been defeated.

Why Germany lost World War II cannot be attributed solely to the Allies numerical superiority in weapons and soldiers and their technical and economic supremacy. It must also be considered that there were many fatal flaws in the German organization, both economic and strategic. Despite Hitler's early successes, Germany could not sustain a prolonged war and therefore when the element of surprise was eliminated, the victories turned to defeats.

Works Cited:

A Short History of Germany 1815 - 1945 E.J Passant Printed in Great Britain Uni. Press, Cambridge 1st Edition 1959
Excel Modern History M. Christiston, c. Natlor et al Pascal Press, Glebe NSW 1995, reprinted with additional Material 1998
Knowing World History Hitler and Nazi Germany Brenda Ralph Lewis Unwin Hyman Ltd London 1979
Europe Since 1815 Alternate Edition Gordon A. Craig The Dryden Press, A division of Holt Rinehart and Winston Inc. Printed in U.S.A, 1974
Germany 1918 - 1945 Democracy to Dictatorship Anne McCallum Rigby Heimemann, a Division of Reed International Books Aust. Pty. Ltd Melbourne, Victoria, 1992
The Penguin Historical Atlas of The Third Reich Richard Overy Penguin Books Ltd 1996
Great Battles of WWII, A Visual History of Victory, Defeat and Glory Marshall Cavendish Printed by Marshall Cavendish Books, London 1995
World War II Ronald Heiferman First published by Octopus Books Ltd 1973, London
Challenge and Response A history of the Modern World Volumn 2 J. H. Allsopp & H.R. Cowie Thomas Nelson Australia Melbourne, Victoria 1970
History in Depth The rise and fall of Hitler's Germany Simon Williams MacMillon Education Ltd 1986
Various Sydney Morning Heralds From the time.
Videos The Century of Warfare Blitzkrieg 1939 - 1940 Polygram Video Narrated by Robert Powell Approx. 52 min PG
Hitler's Germany Part I
Hitler's weapons

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