Hitler Was His Own Worst Enemy
In our last installment, we discussed the ways in which Germany might have defeated the Soviet Union, which led to Soviet-era state-owned news agency Pravda promptly attacking the author in an article entitled, “U.S. Gave advice to Hitler How to Defeat Russia.” In this article, we will discuss why Hitler was Germany’s greatest obstacle to winning the Second World War and how the war might have been won if German generals could have prevented him from interfering in military operations. German dictator Adolf Hitler has been considered a political genius by some and a mad man bent on world conquest by others, but the truth is that he was neither. Rather, he was a virulent anti-Semite who believed his life’s mission was to re-unite Germany and lead an international crusade against Soviet Communism. He was also responsible for committing a series of strategic blunders and military miscalculations, some small and some great, that ended up ensuring Germany’s defeat. But what if German military leaders had been given the freedom to prosecute the war more wisely, resulting in a stalemate or even something resembling a Nazi German victory? Here are some things that Germany could have done differently to win the war:
Overthrow Adolf Hitler before, or immediately after, he violated the Munich Pact — Overthrowing or assassinating Hitler was probably the single most important thing Germany could have done to win the Second World War, assuming it had ended up fighting it at all without him. The reason for this is that Hitler made a series of critical strategic errors beginning with his decision to violate the Munich Pact in March 1939 and continuing with his decision to spare the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Dunkirk in May 1940, his decision to halt the German advance on Moscow in August 1941 and his decision to declare war on the USA in December 1941, which taken as a whole served to all but guarantee ultimate German military defeat.
There were more than 40 known coup or assassination attempts against Hitler, many with wide support by top German military leaders including 11 German field marshals at various times. But the first and perhaps the most promising was planned to occur in September 1938 in response to fear by the German general staff that Hitler’s demand for the German Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia would result in a war with Britain and France, which Germany was woefully unprepared to fight and would have been sure to lose. The Germans had only about one-third as many divisions as they were able to mobilize in September 1939 and the Czech army had the same number of troops as the Germans did and six more army divisions! Needless to say, they would have had to use the bulk of the German Army to successfully invade leaving Germany’s western borders largely undefended against a potential French invasion and occupation of Germany’s Rhineland industrial region. Thus the German generals led by General Ludwig Beck felt it would be necessary to remove Hitler from power in order to avoid a near certain German military defeat.
These senior military anti-Hitler conspirators, also known as the Oster Conspiracy, after the name of the German General who initiated it, planned to arrest or assassinate Hitler the moment he gave the invasion order, overthrow his Nazi regime and restore Kaiser Wilhelm II as Emperor of Germany. Germany’s Chief of the general staff at the time, Colonel General Franz Halder, reportedly carried a loaded pistol at all times in his meeting for Germany in case the time was right to arrest or kill Hitler. However, implementation of the plan depended on the British issuing a declaration guaranteeing Czechoslovakia from German military aggression and threatening to declare war if the Germans invaded. A strongly worded letter from Chamberlain to Hitler that Britain would declare war on Germany if it invaded Czechoslovakia may have been all it took to trigger the overthrow of Hitler and save the world from the devastation of the Second World War. The coup plotters sent an agent to tell then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of their plan to overthrow Hitler requesting he issue such a declaration to justify Hitler’s ouster, but the British Cabinet rejected their proposal. This plan to overthrow Hitler lost much of its senior German military support after France and Britain signed the Munich Pact giving in to most, but not all of his demands without war. It goes without saying that a post-Nazi German government would never have forcibly expelled the Jews, let alone mass murdered them in the Holocaust as Hitler did.
The coup plotters continued to plot to overthrow Hitler after the signing of the Munich Pact, but senior military support from the coup was much reduced following Hitler’s quick string of victories which the Germans were able to achieve from 1938-41. Chamberlain remained a strong supporter of German efforts to overthrow Hitler until his untimely death in November 1940, but his successor Winston Churchill refused repeated requests to help German resistance leaders trying to assassinate him. One of the best ways to have assassinated Hitler would have been to use nerve gas, given that contact between his skin and a single drop of nerve gas could have killed him within 20 minutes, but it appears that using this method of assassination was never seriously contemplated by German resistance leaders. The coup leaders all supported peace with the Western Powers, so had they succeeded the war might have ended much sooner, allowing Germany to focus on defeating the Soviet Union. The final July 20, 1944 attempt by the German resistance to kill Hitler known as ‘Operation Valkyrie’ was led by Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, who was played by Hollywood actor Tom Cruise in the exceptional recent movie Valkyrie. It came the closest to killing Hitler and overthrowing the Nazis from power, but tragically failed after which Hitler ordered the execution of 5,000 German resistance members.
The author actually had the privilege of visiting the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin this past April and paying homage to these unsung, fallen heroes and it proved to be a very moving experience. Ultimately however, even if the German resistance had not succeeded in killing Hitler until later in the war, the Western Allies would have likely had a far more difficult time justifying their postwar destruction and dismemberment of Germany under the pretense of collective punishment of all German civilians for Hitler’s crimes had the Germans already overthrown the evil Nazi regime on their own.
Allow the German General Staff to make all important military decisions — Hitler’s insistence on making all of the major military decisions, instead of allowing his generals to run the war, resulted in a series of avoidable mistakes, the cumulative effect of which assured Germany’s ultimate defeat. Not only did he halt the advance of Army Group Center and prevent it from taking Moscow in summer 1941, but he issued “no-retreat” orders that resulted in entire German armies surrounded and captured, and the unnecessary loss of hundreds of thousands of German troops as the tide of war began to shift against them. Some historians have argued this “no-retreat” order succeeded in preventing the German military withdrawal in the face of the Soviet 1941-42 Winter offensive from turning into a rout, which may be true, however that was an exception. Also, he ordered militarily dubious offensives at Stalingrad in August 1942 and at Kursk in July 1943 and later the Ardennes at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and in Hungary in March 1945, which resulted in heavy German losses without which Germany could have likely defended against successive Soviet offensives at least a couple years longer.
Employ nerve gas to repel the Allied invasion of Normandy and subsequent Soviet invasion of Germany – Hitler spent over $2 billion (as much as the U.S. spent on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb) developing and producing a massive arsenal of Tabun and Sarin nerve gas, which were much more deadly than the Allies’ stocks of mustard gas, totaling 12,000 tons, but declined repeated requests from his military commanders to employ it against enemy troops on the battlefield -- even when Germany was in the process of being totally overrun by the Western Allies and Soviet Red Army from January-May 1945 and he was preparing to commit suicide. The Germans could have employed their vast stocks of nerve gas to potentially repel the Allied amphibious invasion of Normandy on D-Day although it is perhaps fortuitous that they did not as the U.S. and U.K. likely would have responded with their even more deadly stockpile of anthrax which Churchill planned to use to bomb and kill tens of millions of innocent German civilians if the Allied landings in Normandy had been repulsed by the Germans, which would have made Germany’s largest cities uninhabitable for half a century. The Germans could have delivered Sarin nerve gas via mortars, which Germany had considerably more of than did the Allies, along with other types of artillery rounds since delivery by air in the face of Allied air superiority would likely have proven much more challenging. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, had no such scruples and reportedly planned on using mustard gas against German troops on the beaches if they had ended up invading Britain. Nerve gas might have also been used successfully to repel Soviet troops advancing on eastern Germany from Berlin, given favorable wind conditions. Interestingly, all German mortars and multiple rocket launchers above 10 centimeters in diameter during the war were designated by the Germans as Nebelwerfers which translates to “smoke or fog throwers” and were initially assigned to the German Army Chemical Corps, being primarily designed to deliver poison gas and smoke rounds.
Another related major mistake was Hitler’s decision to control the Panzer divisions in Normandy instead of giving full control to Rommel to repel the Allied landing forces on D-day while Hitler slept through D-day and missed the opportunity to do so believing the Allied ruse that the invasion of Normandy was merely a diversion from the main planned allied landings.
Don’t enact anti-Semitic laws that caused top nuclear scientists to emigrate from Europe to the United States —When Hitler was appointed as Reichskanzler in 1933, his virulent anti-Semitism, which he developed following the German surrender at the end of World War One, caused all the top Jewish German and Hungarian scientists, including most notably Albert Einstein, who had been working at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, to emigrate to the U.S. and U.K. Their assistance proved critical in aiding the U.S.-led Manhattan Project in helping the Allies develop the atomic bomb by July 1945. However, had Hitler and the Nazis never enacted discriminatory laws against Jews, Einstein and other European scientists might have helped Germany develop the atomic bomb first, which Germany then could have employed to help break the deadlock on the Eastern Front and produce a more favorable peace settlement with the Soviet Union. That in turn would have catapulted Germany to military superpower status along with the United States and Soviet Union.
This concludes the list of the top 20 things Nazi Germany could have done differently to win the Second World War. However, even had it had technically won the war, the victory would have likely have been limited in scope unless it had succeeded in capturing Moscow and pushing the Red Army back to the Archangel-Volga-Astrakhan Line. Even then, Stalin would have eventually counterattacked and pushed the Germans back, likely making Germany’s victory temporary and prolonging the war considerably longer than it was waged in actual history. The most likely final outcome of a German victory in the war would have been a German-dominated Europe in which German troops had completely withdrawn from Northern, Southern and Western Europe (except for Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine). German troops would remain in Eastern Europe to defend against the prospect of renewed Soviet aggression while Poland would be a Polish-led German protectorate.
The Soviet Union would have likely been restored to its 1938 borders with Nazi Germany fighting a half-century long Cold War against them. Germany might have succeeded in regaining its African colonies and may have succeeded in adding a few new ones had it pursued the Mediterranean option in Part 3 of this series. Had the Jews been forcibly deported to Palestine as part of a peace agreement with Britain as Hitler had requested in his May 1941 peace offer, the Jewish Holocaust would have largely been averted. Ultimately, a victorious Nazi Germany likely would have been a contented, but contained, regional power, not bent on world domination as Allied war propaganda, war hysteria and popular mythology suggested at the time and since. Hopefully, Hitler would have been assassinated and the Nazis overthrown by the German resistance shortly thereafter, returning Germany to democratic control. Then the new German government could have granted full independence to Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic and returned all Polish majority territories to Poland while inviting them to join a new Central & Eastern European mutual defense alliance against the Soviet Union.
© David T. Pyne 2019