*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- deciding factors

The Deciding Factors in World War II

World War II deciding factors
Figure 1.--Hitler admitted to his his inner circle hat he was a gambler. And the gamble he made was that Germany with its limited resources could defeat its targets one by one before they were prepared for war. He ws successful with France, but his plan began to go wrong when the Panzers reached the Channel. As Hiler demanded aBritish Vichy, Churchill the Bitish people braced for invasion, Churchill asked, "What kind of people do they think we are?" Even Churchill did not fully understand the horrors that awaited a defated Britain. Here British school children drill for a Luftwaffe raid (1940). Churchill explained, "What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour."

Adolf Hitler after the fall of France was the master of Europe. He controlled or dominated Europe from Poland to the Pyranees. No other modern conqueror other than Napoleon had amassed such an empire. This placed enormous industrial potential and resources at the command of NAZI Germany. The German military had modern weaponry and a tactical dictrine that no other country at the time could match. Combined with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan the Axis Alliance had in 1940 overwealming military power at a time Britain was perilously bracing for air and U-boat assaults. The American army at the time was almost non-existent and armaments production was less than that of Germany. In the Pacific the Imperial Navy's 13 aircraft carriers and modern aircraft with throughly trined pilots gave the Japanes a military advantage that was not yet understood. Yes the Axis was totally defeated and by 1945 their cities reduced to rubble. The question rises as to why the Axis lost the War and lost it so totally.

Axis Military Advantage

The Axis Alliance in 1940 had a clear military advantage ober the remaining democracies (Britain, the British Dominions, and the United States). Many historians focus on German weaponry, but in fact it was not weaponry that was the decidihng factor. It was command competence and fighting spirit. The British cast the blame on the French. But British troops did not perform well either when the Germans struck in the West (May 1940). Some British officers were concious of this. One Irish Fusiler wrote, " Aftrer a few days of fighting, part of our army was no longer capoable of coordinated measures , either offensive or defenbsive ... We could not lay these ... to the charge of out politicans, [they were] failurss that were striuctly our own .... Within our army the fault lay in the mind, and reallt one must wonder what the Staff College was about in those pre-war years." [Horsfall, p.59.] The simple fact that the German military prepared for war and the armoes of the democracies did not. And the same was true for the population that would be the soldiers. Hitler and the NAZIs had steeked young people for war. Few t=young pweople in the democracies wanted to be soldiers ar fight another War in the military effectivenns of the varrious armies. The French Army which had been the bullwark against German in World War I was smashed. The British Army had escaped at Dunkirk, but had virtually no heavy weapons. Forunately for humanity, the Channel stopped the German Panzers. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was badly outnumbered, but better prepared. Churchill's desperate letters to Roosevelt convey the perilous nature of Briain's fifght for survival. Churchill wrote, "The small countries are simoly smashed up, one by one, like matchwood." Many historians basically persue the idea that the Axis war effort was doomed once Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor. We are not at all convinced that this was the case. The Axis possessed such overwealming military superority in 1940 that a more effective war plan could have brought them victory. The victory in NAZI France and the Japanese vicory at Pearl Harbor were followed by a spectacularly poor war plan that not allowed the Soviet Unioin to survive but gave America time to turn its raw industrial power into the great arsenal of democracy that President Rooselvet pledged. The Allies had great strengths, bit it would take time for both the commanders and citizen soldiers to mobilze their resources and young men for War. The Blitz convinced the British that the War would have to be fought as did Pearl Harbor fpr the Americans. Thus if the Axis was going to win the War, it would have to be at the onset. If the War nogged down in to a lengthy slugfest anbd war of attritioin, it would be the Allies that were going to prevail.


Many historians have written inspiring pieces claiming that demoracy and human values were the key to the Allied victory. Stephen Ambrose talks about the "children of democracy" who bested the NAZI indooctrinated Hitler Youth. [Ambrose] Another respected historian maintainds that the Axis failed "because they repudiated human values and human faith , and from that repudiation flowed all the consequences thatv lead yo final defeat. Against wickidness and terror snd hstred, the free peoples of the world fought back. Their courage was a matchfor the force of the enemy, their ingenuity for his cunning, their free industry for his slavery, their faith for his cynicism." [Commanger] Stiring words indeed and while we would like for them to be true, we are not at all convinced that the sentiments expressed were a key factor in the War. Ceratainly the commitment to human values caused many to resist the Axis powers. It might be said that democracy in America, Britain, and France prevented an early response to the totalitarian menace. Also it was the Soviets, a dictarorship nearly as odious as the NAZIs who played the major role in the defeat of the Wehrmacht. And despite Ambrose's protestations, it was the Wehrmacht that was the most profeasional and best led army in World War II. The Wehrmacht's defeats only came in battles in which it faced overwealming opposing forces and in which the judgement of its commanders were overridden by Hitler. The only major Allied victory against a superior Axis force was the RAF's victory in the Nttle of Britain (1940) and the U.S. Navy's victory at Midway (1942). Life in a democratic society is not conducive to the military. Many democracies are illdisposed to military spending and young people are taught to question. Young people in a totalitarian society are taught o obey. And obedience is a vital to the functioning of an army. Hitler was fond of disparinginfg democracies, he saw them as degerate. And their leaders 'worms'. He saw democracy as little more than mob rule and the hatred of excellence, although he proved very adroit as cpolitical leader in Weimar Germany. He csaw democracy as basically a preliminary stage of Bolshevism--a Jewish derived concept. [Gellately, p. 13.] Perhaps more than anything, he saw democracy to be antithetical to their social-Darwinist concepts and need to build a powerful military. This is not to say that democracies can not generate military power. Democracies may be hesitant to project power which aided Hitler in his early campaigns. As the War unfolded, however, the democracies would generate power at a level Hitlrer could only dream. The democracoes would eventualluy have little hesitancy to utterlky destoy Germany and Japan, leaving their cities, mountains of ruble anf gleaming embers.

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union was thev unknown factor in World War II. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) made it possible for the NAZIs to launch the War (September 1939). The Soviets launched their own series of aggressions (Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania) and for nearly 2 years was a virtual NAZI ally, delivering emmense quantities of raw materials vital to the NAZI war effort. The Japanese after suffering a sharp defeat at the hands of the Soviets on the Manchurian border (August-September 1939) pressed Hitler to include the Soviets in the Axis alliance. Hitler regused, primarily because the resources of the Soviet Union and the agricultural lands of the Eurasian Steppe was the great prise in the War--the Lebensraum needed by the German people. It is difficult to see how the Western Allies could have rentered the Continent without the bloodletting on the Eastern Front that so severely bled the Wehrmacht. This is a fact that escapes many authors who criticize the post-War settlement as a sell-out to the Soviets or an abadonment of Poland. The brutal fact is that it was the Red Army that greatly weakened the Wehrmact before D-Day. Most German soldiers killed in the War were killed by the Red Army. The World War II victory was a joint victory and the post-War settlment as all such settlments simply reflected the power realities at the end oif the War.

Weakness of the Axis Alliance

The Axis Alliance was largely ineffective. There was no real effort to coordinate strategy as occurred with the Allies. The most obvious example here is the Japanese decission to attack America rather than the Soviets who at the time were periously close to defeat. Evem Mussolini and Hitler did not coordinate their efforts. Mussolini's attack on Greece came as a great shock to Hitler and had a profond impact on the War. not sNor was there an effective effort to provide the Japanese advanced German technology. As a result, the Japanese Navy was forced to fight the naval war without radar--putting them at a great disadvantage. There were efforts to send the Japanese advanced technology in the final months of the War. Designs and parts of jet aircraft and radars were shipped to Japan by U-boat. One U-boat, the U-224, decided to surender after VE-Day rather than proceed to Japan. The U-boat among other items contained uranium. It is clear evidence that the Germans were working on a "dirty" atomic bomb and were trying to deliver this capability to Japan.

NAZI and Japanese Arrogance

The NAZIs actually began to believe the racial doctrine that they were Aryan supermen. This was part of the reason that they failed to realize that that their Enigma code machines had been cracked. (It was cracked by both the Poles and British.) It also led the NAZIs to believe that that they had essentially won the War after the fall of France (1940). Asw a result, they actually cut back on war production. The NAZIs failed to fully appreciate that a protracted war would be a war of industrial production and that other countries (Britain, the Soviet Union, and America) could also build effective weapons and in far greater quantities than the Germans. The T-34 tank and other quality Soviet weapons were a special shock as the Germans had been told that the Slavs were virtually subhumans. The Japanese were also convinced that the Japanese were racially superior. In addition they believed that their marshall spirit could overcome the industrial superority of the United States. This attitude clouded the judgement of even competent commanders. The Japanese commander Admiral Nagumo had only four carriers at Midway (he had six at Pearl Harbor) andv failed to take adequate defensive measures to protect his carrier force.

NAZI Racial War

Hitler after the invasion of the Soviet Union attempted to portray the War as an anti-Bolshevick campaign. Had it been so, Hitler may well have succeeded with Operation Barbarossa. In the Baltics and areas of the Ukraine (especially the Catholic western Ukraine), the Wehrmacht was initially received as liberators until the genocidal nature of the NAZI racial war became apparent to the Soviet people. Although the Holocaust of the Jews is the most publicized aspect of NAZI racial policies, the NAZIs had also targeted the Slavs. Had they won the War, the genocide in the East against the Slavs would have by far eclpsed the brutal destruction of the Jews. The NAZIs made little effort at first to recruit anti-Bolshevik fighters. Later when they did, most Soviet citizens realized that they were even worse than the Communists. The NAXZI barbarities also fueled a major resistance effort that played a major role on the Eastern Front. The NAZI suppression of the Jews provided images that help set American attitude against the NAZIs--an importan telement in President Roosevelt's struggle with the isoationists. In the end the anti-Jewish campaign was a key factor in driving nuvclear scientists to Britain and America, leading to the Manhattan Project. A huge irony was that Hitler's onslaught against the Jews helped give the Allies the weapon that could have destroyed Germany.

NAZI Economic Policy

This is a topic that is not well researched. Churchill and Roosevelt were concerned that Hitler would turn occupied Europe into a huge arsenal to suppoort the NAZI war effort. Europe indeed had an enormous industrial and scientific capability. The NAZIs converted some of it to support the War effort. The Czech arms industry was very effectively used. The potential of other countries such as France does not seem to have been utilized. France had a major armaments industry which does not seem to have been effectively utilized. Here we are not sure why, but suspect that the NAZIs after theur victory were more interested in making sure that France could never again rearm. Nor was the European science capability fully used. Major research institutes such as Neils Bohr's nuclear physics institute in Denmark was virtually ignored. Here a mixcture of NAZI arrogance and security concerns were probably factors. What ever the reason, Even the German economy itself was not fully pit on a true war footing until Spee began to rationlize production late in the War. Putting aside the obvious immorality of slave labor, we are also unsure of the economic efficency of the German approach.

Hitler's Leadership

Europeans in the 1930s did not want another war. The memories of World war I were too strong. Even in Germany there was no desire for war. World War II was essentially the work of one man who did want war--Adolf Hitler. One of the mysteries of World War II is that Hilter in the 1930s and eatly war years through the defeat of France very carefully and astutely guided Germany policy. He confused and outmanuevered a series of domestic and foreign opponents. Hitler's involvement in the military planning played an important role in the German victories. Yet after the fall of France, Hitler constantly meddled in military planning and doomed the two key offensives that could have brought the NAZIs victory--the Battle of Briitain (1940) and Operation Barbarossa (1941). The NAZIs if they were to win the War had to win it with short massive campaigns before the superrior industrial and ,atetial strength of the Allies could turn the tide. Thus these two offensives were critical. Both came verey close to succeeding. In both instances, Hitler's intervention probably was the deciding factor.

The British Empire

Britain and the British Empire had enormous resources, only minimally recognized in the BEF's poor showing in Belgium. This undoubtdly affected Hitler's thinking. Britain had a very advancd scientific establishment, rivaling that of Germany and capable of making modern weapons. They had a substantial industril capacity and aided by America could after 1940 withstand a German onlaught. In fact at the time of the Battle of Britain, Britain was outproducing Germany in aircraft. And the Empire was a vast storehouse of the raw materials need to wage modern war. Oil was a poblem because of whare it was located (Iraq and Borneo), but America had vast resources it wa willing to provide America. And the Royal Navy was capable of both denying German access to maritime trade and to mintain the sea lanes so that Empure and American resources into the implments of War. What Bitain needed was time. And a combination of the Channe, Churchill's leadership, and the RAF bought Britain the time that it needed. Hitler had an opportunity to defeat Bitin in 1940, but after failing to do so, in part because of his interference, defeating Britain would be a very difficullt undertaking as long as America underwrote the British war effort.


The United States at the time of World War II was the only country with the capability of waging a global world war. It had not developed the ability to do so and in particular had a very small and poorly equipped army, but with its population and industrial plant had the capacity to build an army, air force, and navy of formidble power. America as late as Perl Harbor had not converted its industry to a wr footing. And its scientific community, unlike Britain nd Grmany, had not been mobilized for weapons production. Fortunatly, Primeminister Churchill turned Britain's high tech research over to America. The American people, however, not only wanted no part in another European war or understood the mortal danger posed by the totalitarian powers. Hitler's calculations were in part based on completing his European cnquests before the American collosus emerged from its self impposed national coma. Foirtunately President Roosevlt understood the danger, but was willing to risk his political future by stanfing up to the isoltionists and preparing for war. Any sane political calculation on the part of the Axis would be to not to rouse the sleeping giant. Hitler understood this to a degree. The Japanese did not. hile Hitler resteaiuned the U-boat in the Atlanic, the Japanese took one provocaive step after another, culminating in the carrier attackon th U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Hitler 3 days later, with Britain still undefeted and the Whermacht bogged doin in rge Siviet Uniin, inexplicably declared war on America. Never before in hisory in the soace of a wek has the workd balance of power shifted so fundamentlly in so short a time.


Ambrose, Stephen.

Commanger, Henry Steele.

Gellately, Robert. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe (2007).

Horesfall, John in Max Hasings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (Knopf: New York, 2011), 729p.


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Created: May 14, 2004
Last updated: 1:24 AM 4/7/2014