Why Did Germany Lose the Second World War?

Hitler’s War Aims
Domination of Europe, eliminating potential threat from France, securing economic resources of western Europe, and forcing UK to come to terms. All as a basis for the conquest of Eastern Europe and its racial reordering to create a European version of the American West, with Germans as settlers, and the indigenous population enslaved and eventually eliminated. This would provide launching-pad for rivalry with UK and USA for world domination. Architectural plans for ‘Germania’ (Berlin, the world capital), plan to hold Olympic Games there permanently, indicate limitless scale of Hitler’s ambition: all to be complete by around 1950. Key feature is the destruction of the Jewish ‘world-enemy’ in order to achieve these aims.

General Plan for the East
Drafted in 1941-2, envisaging 30 to 45 million Slavs perishing through starvation and disease, or being worked to death, with German settlers replacing them, based in German towns linked by motorways and rail. Germanization programme begins in Poland, accompanied by ghettoization of Jews. Food seized from annexed areas and taken to Germany or given to German forces.

The Blitzkrieg

  • Invasion of Poland, Sept 1939: 1.5 million men on each side, but Germans outnumber Poles 15 to 1 in armoured and motorized divisions, 3 to 1 in combat aircraft (and more modern models too). Aerial bombardment of enemy positions, towns and airfields followed by armoured punches through (extended) enemy lines and infantry then pour in through the gaps. Germans lose 15,000 dead and 30,000 wounded, Poles 70,000 and 133,000 wounded, 750,000 prisoners.
  • First plans for invasion of west are conventional. War economy already in place before 1939, with clampdown on consumers and massive borrowing for arms. The Blitzkrieg as a conscious strategy a myth. But invasion plans betrayed, and replaced by daring new plan of armoured punch through Ardennes and race to the sea, with German forces in the north pinning the allies back in a pincer movement. Risky. Following conquest of Norway and Denmark in April/early May, invasion of France, Belgium and Holland 10 May 1940. Forces evenly matched in all respects including armour and planes. But German attack surprised cautious and slow-reacting French generals, co-ordination with British and Dutch/Belgians poor, and by early June, Allies defeated (Dunkirk). This convinces Hitler and army leadership of advantages of co-ordinating air, armour and infantry in the classic Blitzkrieg
  • Following failure to destroy UK air defences and abandonment of invasion plans, Hitler turned to invasion of Russia using Blitzkrieg 3.5 million German and allied troops invade on 22 June 1941. Massive victories against unprepared and poorly led Red Army. Millions killed or captured. 3.3 million Red Army PoWs deliberately killed by Germans.
  • Despite these huge victories, Soviet regime did not collapse. Stalin’s reorientation of the conflict into a Great Patriotic War. Local populations alienated; mass murder and labour draft sparks partisan fightback. Death of PoWs causes Red Army troops to fight harder. Distances too vast to conquer. German forces ground to a halt before Moscow in December 1941; generals fall ill, Hitler takes over and orders a stand. The Blitzkrieg was inappropriate for action on this scale. Massive German underestimate of depth of Soviet resources of men and equipment. Removal of war industries beyond the Urals, out of reach. Lack of German strategic bombing.
  • Delay and dissipation of German military effort by being forced to rescue defeated Italians in Balkans, Greece and North Africa in April/May 1941, tying German forces down despite rapid victories.

Economic Defeat

  • Germans needed petroleum oil; some from Hungary and Romania, but much more required. Rommel fails to advance to Egypt and Middle Eastern oilfields; lacks men and materials. El Alamein Oct 1942, followed by invasion of Sicily July 1943, ousting of Mussolini, Italian capitulation, and German takeover.
  • Hitler decides also to push towards oilfields in Caucasus/Caspian Sea, dividing Eastern Front armies; forces are too weak to reach their goal, while the northern part of the Army Group South is annihilated at Stalingrad Jan 1943, mainly because of lack of supplies (no petrol to fuel the tanks to drive out of the area; no ammunition; above all, no food). Start of long Red Army advance until the end of the war.
  • Failure to gain economically from conquest of western and southern Europe because of harsh treatment of population, ruthless exploitation of their economies, requisitioning of labour, skewed exchange rates, removal of petrol and food, raw materials etc., all cripples the French and other western economies and sparks resistance.
  • Germany outproduced by the Allies. 1940: USSR makes 21,000 combat aircraft, 1943 it’s 37,000; Germany produces 10,000 in 1940, 15,000 in 1942, 26,000 in 1943 following Speer’s rationalization measures, and 40,000 in 1944. British Empire produces 47,000 in 1044, USA 114,000. In 1942-44, Germany produces 6,000 tanks a year, British Empire 8,000, USSR 19,000, and USA produces 17,000 in 1942 rising to 29,000 in 1944.
  • Hitler’s concern at growing US involvement in the war leads to (1) massive anti-Semitic propaganda from 22 June 1941, bringing about the mass extermination of European Jews; and (2) declaration of war on USA following Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, 11 December 1941.
  • Following Stalingrad, Goebbels declares “total War” in Sportpalast speech 18 Feb 1943. Symbolic effect (real per capita output of consumer goods down by a quarter 1938-41, taxed up by 20 per cent, rationing, etc.). Failure to mobilize more women to replace male workers drafted to the front (rate of mobilization high already, Nazi reluctance to redraft gender work-roles), so 8 million foreign, mostly forced labourers in Germany by mid-44.
  • German submarine war on Atlantic supply routes scored early successes, but finally defeated by superior intelligence, lack of German aircraft carriers (Allies had small carriers with spotter planes), convoy system, and slow production.

Falling Morale at Home

  • General apprehension Sept 29, followed by euphoria June 1940, frustration at British failure to come to terms, then apprehension again June 1941. Victories sustain morale until Stalingrad (role of propaganda, newsreels, radio, etc.). Declining public visibility of Hitler, despite efforts of Goebbels to make him tour the country, speak on radio etc..
  • Severe drop in public morale following Stalingrad. Propaganda fails to achieve effect.
  • Even more serious are effects of Allied strategic bombing campaign, begun 1942 (Lübeck, Essen), sustained from Summer 1943. Ruhr raids, but most catastrophic the series of raids on Hamburg end July/early Aug 1943. Two main raids of 700 bombers each. 40,000 killed, 900,000 homeless, 750,000 fled the city, over half of all dwellings destroyed. ‘Firestorm’ phenomenon.
  • Allies increase range and severity of raids to end of war. Dresden Feb 1945 kills c.25,000. Overall, massive damage to war economy and communications, causing 25 per cent estimated drop in planned tank production, 31 per cent aircraft, etc. Inadequate air defences and bunkers. Total 600,000 killed, 40 per cent housing stock in towns and cities destroyed.
  • Nazi Party widely blamed for poor air defences and failure to deal with the situation. Failure of propaganda to arouse hatred of the British. Instead, by portraying the Allies as Jewish-inspired, bombing is seen as the Jews’ revenge, exposing widespread feelings of guilt for inaction at the discrimination, violence and extermination of the Jews, and popular reluctance during and after the war to admit knowledge of it, in case this should inspire further acts of revenge.
  • Failing morale, as reported by SS Security Service surveillance, leads to increasing repression, new treason laws, more arrests, greater role of Party and SS. 16,000 death sentences on civilians. Prison population grows from 100,000 to 158, 000 by 1944; concentration camps to 715,000. On the front, total of at least 20,000 executions carried out by courts-martial for desertion, awol, self-mutilation, malicious gossip, etc., compared to total of 48 (forty-eight!) in whole of World War I. Role of terror in keeping Germans fighting, along with fear of retribution (esp. in East), nationalism/patriotism, and, for some, Nazi ideology.
  • Propaganda in radio and cinema, newspapers and wall-posters, works best when indirect (Jew Süss) than direct (The Eternal Jew), when corresponding (roughly) to perceived reality, and when appealing to existing values and prejudices. But most films and broadcasts are entertainment (Wuhscnkonzert). Popular songs raise morale; but Lili Marleen, by Lale Andersen, seen as a problem. By mid-1944 culture and entertainment collapsing as cinemas, concert halls etc. bombed; July 1944 Goebbels as Plenipotentiary for Total War Effort closes the rest, and drafts 47,000 univ students into war or industry.

End of the War

  • V-weapons: Vergeltung (revenge or retribution). V-1 pilotless flying bomb, of which 22,000 fired, V-2 rocket, of which 3,200 launched, killing 5,000. No adequate warhead, but scientists developing the Atom Bomb can’t complete because of lack of raw materials and inability to control nuclear fission. Nerve gases, e.g. Sarin, can’t be deployed without causing massive damage to own forces. Wunderwaffen propaganda exercise, but Nazi infighting makes prioritization impossible.
  • Bomb Plot of 20 July 1944: initially aimed to stop war and rescue Germany, in the end only to rescue Germany’s honour; anti-democratic and nationalist, but strong moral (Christian) concerns, esp at treatment of Jews. Failure brings massive retribution (1,000 killed, many more arrested and imprisoned) and further power to Party and SS. Partly prompted by Allied invasion of Normandy; war on two fronts shrinks German resources and hastens defeat by early May 1945.
  • Age range of recruits expanded (Volkssturm – 175,000 killed), women brought into support roles in army and air force.
  • Dissolution of society from end of 1944 as bombing causes gas, electricity, water supplies to be interrupted, people live in cellars or flee to countryside, food rations fall rapidly for first time since April 1942, black market takes over, with gangs roaming the streets, including pitched battles with police and Gestapo (Edelweisspiraten). All people can do is to try to stay alive. Summary justice with public hangings of ‘traitors’.
  • ‘Death marches’ from concentration camps in the path of advancing Allied armies; by June 1945, half the 715,000 camp inmates of Jan 1945 are dead. Himmler has prominent prisoners executed. 8 million ethnic Germans flee from the east by February 1945. Red Army’s systematic campaign of rape (more than a million German women) and looting. Mid-May, 20,000 railway wagons at Kursk depot with loot ready for distributing to soldiers’ homes. Official Soviet dismantling of industrial plant, railways etc..
  • Suicide wave: Hitler and Eva Braun on 30 April, Goebbels and family, Bormann, Himmler, Thierack, Rust, Henlein, 8/41 Gauleiters, 53/554 generals, 11/53 admirals, etc.. Suicides in Berlin 238 in March 1945, 3,881 in April, 977 in May. Esp in east. All reflects Anomie (Durkheim), lack of future perspective.
  • No resistance to Allied occupation: total Allied victory makes it impossible; Hitler blamed for destruction of Germany, and is in any case dead; Nazi belief ‘might is right’ turns on itself; Allied occupation too intensive; people too focused on staying alive.

Balance-sheet of the war for Germany
5 million German troops died, 600,000 civilians; 11 million fled or were expelled from Eastern Europe; 6 million Jews killed, 200,000 mentally ill or handicapped; Gypsies, homosexuals, ‘asocials’, criminals, political opponents, foreign labourers. At least 11 million Soviet troops killed, and as many civilians again.

Social change in particular affected the upper classes, landowners, aristocracy, traditional elites, whose economic base and sociopolitical power shattered. ‘Economic miracle’ of 1950s provided material basis for successful democracy.

Women and the family less affected: rather than being ‘the hour of the women’, 1945 saw strong impulse for reintegration of family life after years of disruption, leading to the conservative gender-role regime of the 1950s.

End of the traditional working class and its culture. Already undermined by the Depression. Older generation of workers unleash wave of strikes in the Ruhr in support of socialization, but not supported by the younger workers, who have had no experience of the labour movement or its traditions. Communism discredited by Berlin Airlift and above all by June 1953 uprising in East Germany. Social Democrats formally abandon Marxism in 1959 at Bad Godesberg congress.

West Germany thus becomes a ‘levelled-down middle-class society’ (nivellierts Mittelstandsgesellschaft), as does East Germany, though in a very different way.