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Was total Axis Power defeat inevitable?

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  • Was total Axis Power defeat inevitable?

    I have been independently studying the Second World War, especially the War in Europe of 1939-45, for over four years now, which compared to most people is a long time, but comparing this to the WWII/ Military History community is a small fraction of time at best.

    For those outside of this community the version (a rather outdated version) given of WWII is that its ultimate outcome was, at least during the period of 1939-42, on a knife edge and could have easily gone one of two ways: total Axis Power victory and total Allied defeat or vice versa. This explanation doesn't stand up to hard scrutiny.

    I still find the majority of new documentaries on WWII suggesting the above with many of these being created and/or supplied with information (both oral and otherwise) from the historians on the conflict or the particular battle being focused on etc. In recent years battles such as that of Britain, Moscow, Midway, El Alamein and Stalingrad are made ever more to have had far less influence on the outcome of WWII than that implied for decades before. But, still can be found these events being stated as 'turning points', 'decisive' and that, for example, 'if the Red Army hadn't had fought as hard as it did during the Battle of Stalingrad then Hitler's dream of a Thousand Year Reich would have become reality'.

    Like most on this WWII/ Military History forum the size of armies, their strategies and whether they could or could not win the decisive battle have slowly, but with the discovering and releasing of more archives, been replaced by scholarly work that suggests it was far more about how many resources your nation and your allies had along with if you had enough industrial capacity to turn steel into guns, to put it simply. In this more accurate observation the Allies had the manpower and resources but also the industrial centers to, in a very short time, create well oiled military machines. Additionally and especially concerning the Western Allies they had almost infinite supplies and a strong, global logistical chain. On the other hand the Axis neither individually or collectively had the resources to sustain a long-term war of attrition with industrial centers that could not create massive, mechanized and in terms of the Wehrmacht 'modern' armies that have for so long been suggested as being the case.

    In the early years of the war (1939-1941) the Axis unleashed their forces at the very limit of their strength in numbers and equipment upon largely small and weak nations like Poland. The first and only defeat of a 'major' Allied country was that of France in 1940 which had more to do with a failure of the French military High Command than a helpless resistance to a truly effective German 'way of war'. For the first weeks of the invasion of France the main Panzer thrusts were being supplied by usually a single supply line, on a single road that any French and/or British armored charge or air attack could have easily crippled, undermining the Panzer's ability to advance further. Thus, making them highly vulnerable to destruction and with that destruction of the whole last minute improvised invasion plan. However, what really shouldn't have happened actually took place (i.e. a successful invasion and defeat of France, a still major European power and with the economy of the British Empire an economically and military numerically superior blocker to any believed Germany victory over her).

    As the defeat of France in 1940 showed, on land at least, Germany's military (a military culture different to her much more lavishly supplied economic neighbors) succeeded in overpowering and subduing a military equal, in partnership with a superpower which gave it a 2-1 economic superiority to Germany. This victory, regardless ultimately of Britain's position in the war at that time, instilled in the whole German population and her soldier's the belief that they were 'invincible'. And so, in time, they thought they could subdue and conquer the Soviet Union while fighting Britain and if necessary the United States of America too into accepting their new superpower.

    From there on the war, for Germany, only became larger, less controllable and harder to successfully sustain to victory. The Battle of Britain revealed the inability for Germany to defeat Britain outright leaving the only real alternative of acquiring the resources of the USSR and, in defeating this other major enemy, using these resources with the releasing of men and supplies originally destined for the Heer into the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe to starve and bomb Britain into accepting an armistice (regardless whether the USA became involved or not). Historically, Germany had no chance of pulling this off as she failed to defeat the USSR in the necessary time period of 1941-42. While the U-Boat campaign was an annoyance it certainly wasn't anywhere near 'starving' Britain out.

    There was no 'turning point' of WWII. It was a global conflict that involved most of the world's countries and hundreds of millions of people with no one battle at least turning eventual Axis victory into eventual Axis defeat. Personally, I believe up until mid-1942 Axis victory was feasible and that up to this final point there was, from the BoB onwards, a degrading percentage of chance of success. Essentially, mid-1942 placed the Axis in a 'no return' position for the rest of the war. The events of December 1941 (a point that could be considered the turning point) made Axis defeat extremely unlikely, but, in my opinion, not totally impossible. The events of the first six months of 1942 proved to show that the highly likely outcome of Allied victory, as it was always likely to occur, was finally made certain.

    Its not to say that the war was a foregone conclusion, though it was not far from one. The percentage of chance for Axis victory (that being of Germany, Italy and Japan against Britain, the USSR and USA) was at best perhaps 10%, which while being a small percentage was a chance all the same. The Allies had everything necessary to win, totally win, but, like with France in 1940, you can never be too certain that your amount of steel or number of tanks will be enough to win against a determined, fanatical enemy who (as opposed to the Western Allies) was prepared to pay any cost in military and civilian casualties in return for maximizing their adversaries casualties. The Allies won all out and I am not surprised that this happened, but neither do I accept that their victory was certain from the very beginning.

    On the other hand, when one looks at the vile regimes of the Axis whose genocidal expansionism was made clear from their first breath of existence is it any wonder that their unimaginable hatred and wanting of apocalyptic destruction for much of the world resulted in their demise. What they managed to do in their time in power was disgusting enough, let alone what they planned to do in a victory scenario. In many ways the Allies could see millions of their dead a price worth paying if it meant the utter eradication of what they faced in their enemies. The Soviets and Chinese truly suffered those horrifically high casualties, but it does bring to question whether the Western Allies were prepared to suffer the same if it meant victory.

    To return back to my original point, was Axis defeat inevitable from the beginning of the war or was there a chance, however small, that this horror could have been made reality?
    Last edited by WarMachine; 07 Jan 15, 12:35.

  • #2
    Once the Axis awakened the Allies and their collective industrial might, they sealed their doom. It was just a matter of time, for they could not match the industrial might the Allies wielded.

    “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” -- Albert Einstein

    The US Constitution doesn't need to be rewritten it needs to be reread

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    • #3
      To return back to my original point, was Axis defeat inevitable from the beginning of the war…
      How could Britain have won the war if the US and USSR had not entered it?

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      • #4
        Where have I heard something like that before....? [:-)

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        • #5
          My own opinion, Germany's defeat became inevitable on June 22, 1941. Prior to the attack on the USSR, there was a (slim) chance that Hitler could have waited out the stalemate with Britain and ultimately made a negotiated peace with a new British government. Once Germany attacked the USSR, all bets were off. The Soviet Union, despite its relatively unsophisticated economic and industrial base, dwarfed Germany in industrial potential and it was only a matter of time before this was mobilized and used to defeat Nazi Germany.

          There is another school of thought that claims Stalin had already identified Nazi Germany as a threat to Soviet security in 1939 and was planning for a war with Germany circa 1943. This is consistent with Soviet defense policy, where a large-scale expansion and modernization of the Red Army was begun in 1939, with an expected completion date four years later. The theory has it that Stalin expected a protracted and costly war between Germany and his capitalist enemies that would weaken both sides and reduce Germany's ability to resist such an attack. As it happened, the complete collapse of France thwarted that expectation and the German invasion of the USSR in 1941 preempted any such plans, but from all indications Stalin did, indeed, intend to attack Germany when he deemed the Soviet Union was ready. If that is so, then Hitler's chances of establishing a Thousand-Year Reich were compromised before he even attacked Poland.

          Either way, Germany was too small and too weak economically to get very far in a war against the major industrial powers to the east and west. The lack of oil and other strategic commodities meant they were fighting with one hand tied behind their back. If you have not already read it, Tooze's Wages of Destruction is a seminal work detailing the weaknesses of the German economy and how economic determinism dictated Nazi strategy. Another enlightening book is War for Oil, by Dietrich Eichholtz, who describes how Hitler's preoccupation with oil affected his diplomatic and military strategies.

          All in all, despite Hitler's pretensions, Germany was never in a position to achieve a lasting victory.

          Regards
          Scott Fraser
          Ignorance is not the lack of knowledge. It is the refusal to learn.

          A contentedly cantankerous old fart

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Scott Fraser View Post
            My own opinion, Germany's defeat became inevitable on June 22, 1941. Prior to the attack on the USSR, there was a (slim) chance that Hitler could have waited out the stalemate with Britain and ultimately made a negotiated peace with a new British government. Once Germany attacked the USSR, all bets were off. The Soviet Union, despite its relatively unsophisticated economic and industrial base, dwarfed Germany in industrial potential and it was only a matter of time before this was mobilized and used to defeat Nazi Germany.
            I agree with your basic premise and see the tipping point or turning point for the whole war as being the events of 5-11 December 1941. The Soviet counter-offensive, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war on the US.

            Warmachine wrote:
            There was no 'turning point' of WWII. It was a global conflict that involved most of the world's countries and hundreds of millions of people with no one battle at least turning eventual Axis victory into eventual Axis defeat
            The turning point was the defeat/failure of Operation Barbarossa. Germany sacrificed its best formations, best Soldiers and lost such a massive amount of equipment and motorized vehicles that it could never fully recover in terms of mobility and fighting capacity. Prior to Barbarossa Germany/European Axis had the capacity to win a negotiated peace, but not after, especially if you consider all of the events of December 1941.
            "Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics"
            -Omar Bradley
            "Not everyone who studies logistics is a professional logistician, and there is no way to understand when you don't know what you don't know."
            -Anonymous US Army logistician

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            • #7
              If you go beyond strategic generalizations and study the tactical/operational level/force correlations, it is clear that the war was lost in 1941 in the ETO.

              The Axis gambit was to smash and grab before the RKKA built itself up, and there was no Plan B.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Javaman View Post
                The turning point was the defeat/failure of Operation Barbarossa. Germany sacrificed its best formations, best Soldiers and lost such a massive amount of equipment and motorized vehicles that it could never fully recover in terms of mobility and fighting capacity. Prior to Barbarossa Germany/European Axis had the capacity to win a negotiated peace, but not after, especially if you consider all of the events of December 1941.
                Tooze believes that Hitler expected war with the United States was inevitable once Britain failed to surrender. The US was becoming increasingly hostile, was supplying his enemies with weapons, and was a haven for shipping destined for Britain. The inevitable success of submarine warfare was another example of Hitler's wishful thinking. There had already been incidents and Hitler was keen to expand unrestricted submarine warfare into US waters. It would seem that in this case, Hitler was right — war with the US was inevitable, so acting first (in the wake of Pearl Harbor) might give him some tactical advantage. Who knows? Hitler had some very strange ideas.

                On the other side, as early as 1940 Stalin is recorded to have speculated in public that there would eventually be a coalition of the USSR, the USA and Great Britain against Nazi Germany. It seems that everyone expected that such an alliance would form.

                I don't know how realistic a scenario might be that had the United States at war with Japan and not with Germany. As well as the United States, the Japanese were attacking the French, British and Dutch and were soon threatening Australia. These nations were already at war with Germany and the USA was already a cheerleader and unofficial belligerent in the sense that they were supplying material to the Allies through Lend-Lease. with the hysteria of the time, I don't think it would have taken too much lobbying for Roosevelt to get a declaration of war against Germany, if Hitler had not acted first.

                On that basis, I would step back to June 1941, or even earlier. If Hitler had accepted the status quo, Germany might have eventually negotiated with the British and avoided war with the USA. I don't think that was a sustainable option.

                Germany needed oil to fight a war, and Germany had none. The only place Germany might get oil was Iraq or Baku. According to Eichholtz, Hitler's options were to cross Egypt and Syria to Iraq or else to cross the Soviet Union to the Caspian Sea. Both were impossible to achieve, so Hitler was defeated as soon as he started.

                Regards
                Scott Fraser
                Ignorance is not the lack of knowledge. It is the refusal to learn.

                A contentedly cantankerous old fart

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'm the one who thinks that Axis had no chances since 1939. Well, only in improbable case of Allied leaders having simultaneous panic attacks and opting for surrender. Even such an unbelievable condition wouldn't be a 100% guarantee for Axis states' happy existence for a long period of time.

                  As for "turning points" - one cannot discard their importance in changing the course of events and bringing the time of victory closer.
                  "Keep Calm. Use Less X's"

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Cult Icon View Post
                    If you go beyond strategic generalizations and study the tactical/operational level/force correlations, it is clear that the war was lost in 1941 in the ETO.

                    The Axis gambit was to smash and grab before the RKKA built itself up, and there was no Plan B.
                    Agree with this. Looking at Tooze's analysis, there was a (bare) possibility that if every card had fallen right, Hitler might have ended up with Baku and the Ukraine, as he described in Mein Kampf. But this begs the question of, What about the rest of Russia/the USSR? Even if Stalin had been killed, there was just too much population and resources in the remaining areas for the eastern borders of Grossdeutchland to have been more than a running sore claiming troops and resources against ceaseless partisan activity biding the return of the Red Army or its successor, while the Reich was still at war with the USA and Great Britain/CW. I don't think it could have been done. As somebody said, Germany was "too big for Europe, too small for the world."

                    Susie
                    Will no one tell me what she sings?--
                    Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
                    For old, unhappy, far-off things,
                    And battles long ago:
                    -William Wordsworth, "The Solitary Reaper"

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                    • #11
                      With the obvious benefit of hindsight:

                      IMO, the first opportunity for Hitler to avoid military defeat was to not launch his attack on Poland. Reasoning: You can't lose a war if you don't enter hostilities in the first place.

                      Having launched his attack on Poland, his second opportunity (IMO) to avoid defeat was to withdraw from Poland immediately in accordance with British and French demands. Reasoning: A very embarrassing back-down and one that would not have been countenanced of course; but still a way out.

                      His final, and very slender opportunity (IMO) was to refrain from attacking the Soviet Union. However, Hitler's running war against Britain and its Empire/Commonwealth would have been very difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion from the German PoV. Also, there were problems with resources and a strong probability of increasing support from the USA for the British, eventually developing into hostilities with the USA.

                      When Operation Barbarossa failed in its aim to quickly subdue the Soviet Union (which, again with the benefit of hindsight seems to have been just about unavoidable), Hitler's goose was thoroughly cooked and from that point IMO, and given continuing Allied solidarity, his headlong journey towards defeat could not be reversed.
                      Last edited by panther3485; 07 Jan 15, 22:21.
                      "Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
                      Vice Admiral Beatty to Flag Captain Chatfield; Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 1 June, 1916.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Phebe View Post
                        Where have I heard something like that before....? [:-)

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Phebe View Post
                          Where have I heard something like that before....? [:-)
                          WW1 discussions - war with the USA was a sure-fire way to lose for Germany.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by panther3485 View Post

                            IMO, the first opportunity for Hitler to avoid military defeat was to not launch his attack on Poland. Reasoning: You can't lose a war if you don't enter hostilities in the first place.

                            Having launched his attack on Poland, his second opportunity (IMO) to avoid defeat was to withdraw from Poland immediately in accordance with British and French demands. Reasoning: A very embarrassing back-down and one that would not have been countenanced of course; but still a way out.

                            His final, and very slender opportunity (IMO) was to refrain from attacking the Soviet Union.
                            This is all the basic principle that Germany can't win a total war, but might perhaps have won a limited war.

                            Returning to the pre-September 1939 status quo was a non-starter - the Soviet Union had occupied half of Poland, and the Soviets weren't going anywhere. The war was lost for Germany between July 1940 and June 1941, when the limited war that Germany might win ended and the total war that it could not win started. (In contrast to the overwhelming detail provided elsewhere, Tooze only lightly touched on the alternative possibility of deepening the alliance with the Soviet Union, except to say that the USSR would have become the dominant partner.)

                            Discarding the return of Poland as unworkable, the other option was a peace offensive to keep the US neutral, based on quick peace treaty and withdrawal from France and the Benelux after June 1940. Hitler's final card in that gambit would have been to have resigned from office and re-established the Reichstag.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by WarMachine View Post

                              As the defeat of France in 1940 showed, on land at least, Germany's military (a military culture different to her much more lavishly supplied economic neighbors) succeeded in overpowering and subduing a military equal, in partnership with a superpower which gave it a 2-1 economic superiority to Germany.

                              Angus Maddison's GDP estimates for 1939 in 1990 US Dollars are:

                              Germany - 374,577
                              France - 200,840
                              UK - 300,539

                              I don't think anybody suggests that France's military was more lavishly equipped than Germany's in 1940?
                              By rough estimates Germany spent twice as much in the 30s on rearmament as Britain and France combined.

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