Dark Age wrote:Hello, in this thread I want to talk about the common parochial mistakes people make when discussing military strategy in the Second World War. I feel many people have an elementary understanding of certain topics during the war which prevents them from seeing the more important issues.
1: THE GERMANS LOST THE WAR IN 1939
Incorrect. Such statements are claims that the German defeat was inevitable. They fail to recognize that Germany was winning the war until late 1941. France was smashed, Britain was too weak to invade Europe on its own, and the Soviet Union was in the process of being bled to death. Germany lost the war on Dec 11, 1941 when Hitler declared war on the United States while his armies were engaged in Russia. That single act decided the war because it forced Germany to fight another opponent with awesome industrial capacity, western technology and which contained a population of around 140,000,000 and furthermore was safe from fighting a war on its own soil thus its production could not be molested. The huge population of the USA meant it could , in time, mobilize armies of many millions which would tip the balance in the allies favor.
I wouldn't say that Germany lost the war the moment it declared war on the US. However, I agree fully that without the US the strategic situation on Britain's side and the USSR's would have been much worse. The United States was the economic heart of the Allies, they provided Britain and the USSR with the resources required to fight the war. For instance, in 1943, the Allies produced 100 million tons of steel, the US produced 80 million and Britain and the USSR combined, only 20 million. The US sent 50 billion dollars of material help to it's Allies, as a result the US paid for a large fraction of the war both for UK and for the USSR.
So, overall, it was the US that made total allied victory feasible. Without US material help the Red Army would be without the aircraft (aluminum), trucks, ammunition (explosives), tanks (steel) and fuel required to advance from Stalingrad to Berlin. And without the US shipyards Britain would be without the merchant fleet she needed to survive, much less the merchant fleet required to deploy a large field army on the European continent.
The idea that Germany lost the war automatically, either in 1939 or in 1941, is the product of our modern zeitgeist. After 1945, the United States became the central country in the world and this meant that American culture became dominant and started to influence the way we think about the past. Germany was the main enemy of the United States in WW2 and was the enemy that the United States defeated and made the US into the hegemonic power of our modern world. Thus, WW2 made the contemporary world, including it's North American cultural dominance. This cultural dominance influences the way we think about the past, specially regarding the odds facing Germany.
Like the way the Romans though about Carthage and Hannibal, we think today that Germany and Hitler were bound to be defeated and fundamentally inferior to the irresistible force of the Allies.
2: HITLER WOULD HAVE WON THE WAR IF HE LISTENED TO HIS GENERALS
Nope. So he should have listened to the same generals that told him not to occupy the Rhineland? The same generals that told him not to expand in 1938? The same generals that told him that Germany was not ready for war in 1939? The same generals who in 1939-40 came up with a rehash of the German 1914 invasion of France which would have likely cost Germany tremendous casualties for an indecisive result? Hitler had to , in fact, go outside his general staff to lower generals like Manstein to get a workable plan to deliver a knockout blow against France. Many of his generals were unimaginative and too fixated on convential warfare with the occupation of enemy cites rather than Hitler who prefered to attack an enemy's resources.
Here I disagree and agree with Qvist. Hitler was an amateur general who lacked real understanding of large scale military operations. How armies moved and how they worked. He was like most internet nerds who think in terms of number of tanks: He was hugely impressed by the Soviet tank arm when the German army destroyed 36,000 Soviet tanks in 1941 and 1942, which actually indicated how little effective these tanks really were. Instead of understanding how actual armies work, that they don't just have "tanks" and "planes", there are things like training, equipment quality, doctrine, organization, logistics, manpower, fuel, ammunition and also, he didn't understand that while tanks and aircraft were important weapons of war in WW2 they weren't really that important, artillery pieces and hand held weapons inflicted 90% of all casualties in the war. Mechanized forces, either flying or on wheels, inflicted a very small proportion of all losses.
Of course, tanks and aircraft were important, but they weren't magical and didn't substitute for basic elements of military
operations. They helped to make forces more mobile and were critical elements of German doctrine.
Having served in the army and studied history, I now can better understand Hitlers reluctance to listen to his generals. Many officers lack imagination and think too parochially. Napoleon was a brillant officer and great tactician but he failed to grasp things on a strategic level. He invaded Egypt and, by doing so ,wasted men and material which could have better been used in Europe where France faced more deadly threats. Wars in Europe are settled in Europe so seizing Egypt would have done nothing to bring the British Empire to its knees. Napoleon foolishly occupied Spain and then invaded Russia believing he could win against a country of that size in a convential battle. His tactial brillance meant nothing against Grand Strategy where a coalition of powers outnumbered him close to 3 to 1. Even if Napoleon would have won a Waterloo, he would have been defeated by sheer mass of numbers. Napoleon is the perfect example of a tactical officer failing because he refused to grasp strategy.
I disagree. Napoleon understood that he was gambling and that he took risks. France was the leading power in the world in the Early 19th century, and had the largest and best armed forces in the planet. Napoleon lost fundamentally thanks to bad luck. Specially considering that in those days wars were decided in a few large field battles which didn't have determinate results.
Wars are about resources and population. And wars in Europe are settled in Europe, hence his reluctance to invade Britain and commit to Africa since such attacks would have done nothing to gain Germany living space to expand the its resources and population, two things which matter most in wars between technologically even powers.
Actually, if Germany had invaded Britain with enough strength it would have made the war a thousand times easier.
3: THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN WAS A BRITISH VICTORY
Nonsense. The term "Battle of Britain" was invented by Winston Churchill since he needed any victory he could get in July 1940. The Battle of Britain was simply an aerial battle were all that happened was the British defended their air space successfully. It was not a great British triumph but merely a triumph of survival. Overall, on the Strategic Level, the aerial battle was a stalemate. Although Germany could not win air supremacy over the British Isles, the Brtish were cornered and could not invade or gain aerial supremacy over German occupied Europe. Hence the Battle was not a British victory but a propoganda attempt to hide the fact that the British were in a hopeless situation.
Well, it's true that our modern impression of the Battle of Britain is the product of British propaganda. However, one should note that victory and defeat are determined based on the objectives sought. The German objective was to get air supremacy over England. They failed in attaining this objective. For me that's simply a very natural consequence of the fact that Britain had plenty of fuel, pilots and aircraft production capacity: they could simply keep replacing the losses they suffered and hence always deny Germany aerial supremacy over England.
In 1944 the Allies managed to attain air supremacy over France thanks to several facts in combination:
1 - About 80-85% of the Luftwaffe was employed in other areas, such as Germany, defending against strategic bombers or in the Eastern front.
2 - The Luftwaffe had a critical shortage of pilots, since they suffered many thousands of losses over the last several years.
3 - In may 1944 the Allies succeeded in destroying most of German aircraft fuel production. Germany was producing 180,000 tons of aircraft fuel per month in April 1944, by July 1944, production feel to a 48,000 tons. So, by mid 1944 they lacked the fuel supplies to operate the existing aircraft and also the fuel required to train the additional pilots.
Germany could never inflict the same degree of damage on the Royal Airforce in 1940. The UK could simply import fuel from the US and could continue to train pilots and produce aircraft at will. And they could concentrate most of their airforce on Britain, to protect against Germany's attacks.
4: HITLER SHOULD HAVE FINISHED OFF THE BRITISH FIRST
Not logical. Hitler attempted to finish off the British first.. it was called the Battle of Britain. All that happened was both sides lost a lot of planes and airmen. A German aerial assault on the British in 1941 or 42 or 43 would have yielded the same results. Attacking through the Mediterrean would also not have brought the British to their knees. Remember to settle a war in Europe you have to win the war in Europe. A large scale Mediterrean/African campaign would have been a waste just like Napoleons invasion of Egypt. The logical enemy to attack was the Soviet Union who had over 3 million troops amassed opposite of Germany's LAND BORDERS and whos territory could expand your population and increase your resources.
Germany should have invaded Britain. A isolated air attack is not able to bring decisive victory alone: the Allies tried that on Germany and it didn't work. However, in 1940 Germany lacked the equipment required for invading Britain. It would take several years to build up the forces required to invade Britain. However, that would be the safer strategic option.
The invasion of Russia made sense given the information they had in May 1941 about Soviet effectiveness. They never imagined that the USSR would be able to sustain such massive casualties.
An attempt to finish off Britain would have cost too many German casualties ( troops Hitler needed for Russia), tie up too many German troops in occupation(whether in the British Isles or elsewhere) and simply would have taken too long... probably until 1945-46 and by then the USA and Soviet Union would be at war with Germany. Also Hitler knew that the British, just like in the Napoleonic Wars, could not invade Europe hence why Hitler left only 600,000 troops in Western Europe during Barbaroosa
However, without the UK the allies would lose a very important player, Germany would gain a very wealthy piece of territory to exploit and the US would be without a base of operations to invade Europe. That would leave Russia alone to face Germany. The US could provide supplies to Russia, however, but the Allies would be in a much worse strategic situation.
5: HITLER'S INVASION OF THE SOVIET UNION WAS A GREAT MILITARY BLUNDER
Wrong. It was objectively the most sensible option for an imperialistic Germany bent on conquest. Its territory had the capacity to turn Germany into a GLOBAL SUPERPOWER.
Well, Germany was a superpower since 1871. A country with global influence. In fact, Germany had greater international influence than the United States or Russia enjoyed from 1871 to 1939.
The Soviet Union, with its massive army, was the greatest threat to Hitler as it stood directly on Germany's Land Borders.
Actually, the German generals thought that the Russia was the lesser power out of the UK, US and Russia. They though they were the weakest link in the Allies and that they could destroy Russia rather easily.
The ideological differences between the two meant war was practically inevitable
Actually, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were very similar regimes. They were both highly centralized, authoritarian, aggressive, militaristic and promoted isolation relative to the rest of the world. Germany lacked the natural resources to maintain itself isolated from the rest of the world and wished to get these resources from Russia.
and, as I already explained, finishing off the British first would take too long and be too costly hence invading the Soviet Union was totally logical.
Agreed. In 1941 nobody expected that the USSR would be defeated in a matter of months. While it would take years for Germany to assemble the forces required to invade Britain.
People with an elementary understanding of history simply compare Barbarossa to Napoleon. What they fail to realize is that the Germans were winning in Russia. The year 1941 on the Eastern Front produced a total of about 750,000 German casualties. The Soviet Union however, lost over 4 times as much. Examing the populations of each country gives us objective evidence that the Soviet Union could not sustain such casualties and would have eventually lost. The population of Germany was around 80 million while the Soviet Union was around 190,000,000 or a little less. Thus the Soviet Union had slightly over twice the population of Germany but was sustaining losses of over 4 to 1 making it mathematically impossible for Stalin to win on his own.
Actually the odds were even worse for the Soviet Union. In 1942 and 1943 Germany had a labor force of 45 million, the Soviet Union had 55 and 57 million workers in their labor force in 1942 and 1943, respectively. But the USSR lost 15 million men in the Eastern Front while Germany lost 2.7 million in 1942 and 1943. So, even with US lend-lease, the Soviet Union couldn't win a single front war against Germany.
However, German forces, despite suffering much lower casualties, declined in size while Soviet forces increased. In June 1941, there were 3 million German and 3 million Soviet troops at the front. In January 1945 there were 2.2 million German and 6.5 million Soviet troops. And Soviet losses were 25 million while German losses were 6 million. So, from June 1941 to January 1945, Germany allocated a total of 8.2 million men to the Eastern front, the USSR allocated 31.5 million, in terms of replacements and fresh divisions.
While during the whole war, Germany conscripted 17 million men, compared to 34 million for the USSR. So, in proportion to total manpower mobilized, replacements and fresh divisions sent to the Eastern front comprised 48% and 93% of the respective German and Soviet cases.
Germany was simply fighting on a multi front war and hence couldn't focus all their resources on the Eastern front. Eastern front strength averaged 2.5 - 3 million men, out of an armed forces of 9.5 million men (26.3% to 31.6%). While the Red Army had 6-7 million men out of armed force strength of 12-12.5 million (50% to 58%). Where the rest of German manpower was allocated?
In June 1944, German army manpower was allocated as follows:
Eastern front - 2,520,000 men
Western front - 880,000 men
Italian front - 411,000 men
other - 450,000 men (Norway, Germany, killing jews, etc)
There were also very substantial manpower resources involved in manning the anti-air batteries in Germany, in the order of half a million men. Overall, out of the 4.3 million men in the Feld Heer and Waffen SS field forces, 2.5-2.6 million were in the eastern front in mid 1944.
Also, Germany had access to the vast manpower of the occupied territories. By mid 1944 they provided 7 million workers for the German economy. Partially replacing the manpower conscripted into the armed forces. Without the manpower from the occupied territories Germany would have lost the war much sooner.
There is the general claim that the Russians were thrashed by the Germans but eventually recovered from the defeats and learned how to defeat the Germans. This is parochialism at its worse for it ignores the fact that the Germans learned from their mistakes as well. Hence the continued kill ratio favoring the Germans throughout the war.
The German kill ratio against the Soviets was similar to the WW1 kill ratio and similar to the kill ratio of first world armies when they confront third world armies. It was a natural consequence of the fact that the USSR was a backward country in 1940 while Germany was an industrialized country. Nothing could change those facts on the short run (and they didn't change in the long run, even today, mid 2012, Germany is a first world country, Russia is third world, as they have been over the last 150 years).
This reflected the basic discrepancy in the level of development between Western and Eastern Europe. Such discrepancy exists since the late middle ages and persists to this day: Western Europe is developed, Eastern Europe is backward. This discrepancy was naturally reflected in WW2 by the 5-6 to 1 kill ratio between Germany and the USSR.
So, there is nothing new under the sun here: Western European armies > Eastern European armies since the times of Petrarch.
What was new in WW2 was the capability of the Soviet Union to replace casualties. In WW1 Russia had a greater population inside their territory (considering the Soviet losses due to Barbarossa) but wasn't nearly able to mobilize as many men. The USSR was able to replace 7.8 million casualties in 1943 out of a labor force of 57 million. In 1944, Germany lost 2.8 million men (2.0 in the Eastern front, 0.6 in the Western and 0.2 in Italy and to the air war) and had a labor force of 45 million and it was catastrophic.
So when someone mentions the harsh winter of 1941 in negative context to the Germans, they fail to realize that the Russians were suffering far far worse.
Actually, the Russians fared better in the winters. They had better winter clothing, adequate for the ultra cold climate of Russia.
The casualty ratio would continue to favor the Germans only perhaps with exception to Bagration in 1944. On a Grand Stretegic level the only reason the Russians won was because Germany had to divert resources to the West once the USA entered the conflict. Hence generally Barbarossa was logical and not a military blunder. Hitler may have not reached Moscow, but he didnt need to if he could bleed Stalin's armies to death.
It was a military blunder yes, because even though Germany spend 2/3 of all ammunition they manufactured on the Eastern front from 1941 to 1944 and inflicted a total of 25 million Soviet casualties, by January 1945 they were inside their 1941 borders.
The idea was that the Soviet Union was an enemy that could be defeated without a great cost. Without a full 100% effort by Germany. Quick and cheap.
9: LEND LEASE SAVED THE SOVIET UNION
I wanted to address this one because it is partly true. I see it on this forum often and people have already displayed numbers and sources of equipment provided to the Soviet Union. However as I said this is only parly true. Lend Lease was essential to equiping the Red Army. I will not deny that. However it alone would not have been enough to save Stalin. In addition to Lend Lease, the millions of American troops fighting in Europe are also needed to save the Russians for they divert German manpower and material away from the Russian Front. So the truth is Lend Lease alone wasnt enough to keep the Russians in the war, Lend Lease combined with American military attacks were.
And British. Britain mobilized 9 million men and was responsible for more than half of the Western Allied sorties over Europe and about 40% of the army manpower involved in Italy and the Western front.
10: THE INVASION OF NORMANDY OPENED UP THE SECOND FRONT IN EUROPE
No.I hear such foolishness often. Such an absurd notion is insulting to the Allied troops who fought in Italy, Sicily and North Africa and the airmen who fought in thr skies over Germany and Europe. The Second Front always existed since June 1941 and it had greater impact in 1942 once the United States was involved. The Germans gradually had to move more men and materal West to counter real or anticipated threats to German occupied Europe. Tunisa was just as costly to the Germans as Stalingrad and the Sicilian campaign forced the Germans to devote more divisions to occupy Italy. The bombing raids intensified in 1943 forcing the Luftwaffle to devote more fighters to aerial defense and remove them from the Eastern Front. The Second Front did not open on June 6th, 1944. I would argue that it was in late 1942 that the Second Front had noticable impact on weakening Germany's war effort with the Soviet Union.
Well, in strategic terms Germany was investing resources against the Western allies several years before 1941. So the Western front was opened in fact in 1933-34, when Hitler began mobilizing Germany for war. Or at least in June 1940, when Germany began focusing their efforts on increasing U-boat and aircraft production for a naval and aerial war with the Western Allies.
But in June 1944 the Western Allies made their single most important contribution to the war. They dropped a field army of 2.5 million soldiers on continental Europe and increasing German casualties by a very large margin. By late 1944 Germany was suffering as many casualties in the Western front as in the Eastern front.
Nevertheless, overall when examing all powers, the grand strategic decisions are the most important. Every country made mistakes but the single big mistake that cost Germany the war was declaring war on the USA in Dec 1941.
The US was sending massive resources to UK and the USSR before Dec 1941. Germany declaring war on the US in late 1941 changed the course of events by a relatively small degree. I think that the material contributions of the US to Britain and the USSR, the 50 billion dollars of munitions and raw materials in the Lend-Lease agreement, were the most important contribution of the US and they were already sending billions of dollars to UK by 1940.
"In tactics, as in strategy, superiority in numbers is the most common element of victory." - Carl von Clausewitz