The Second World War was a titanic conflict that ravaged large swathes of the globe. Nazi Germany stood at the helm of a conquered Europe and was only defeated through the combined efforts of the Allied powers of the Soviet Union, United States, British Empire, Free French forces, a number of smaller combatants like the Polish remnants. This edited historical research paper explores the military and civil decisions made by the Germans in World War II, and why the Nazi military machine lost the war.
Drafting a military policy: Hitler’s Nazi leadership
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Poles were handed a total defeat after only five weeks of fighting. Germany had demonstrated itself a formidable military machine through its development and use of the concept of blitzkrieg (House, 1984). A blitzkrieg is an advanced, centralized attack launched against an enemy. While the term most often refers to unforgiving, motorized assaults, certain media attacks have been described as a blitzkrieg (e.g. Trump’s advertisement attack on Cruz during the Florida primaries).
Germany would subsequently utilize the same tactics to achieve a similarly rapid victory over Holland, Belgium, and France and thereby engage in the full-fledged occupation of most of Western Europe. Yet despite the innovative tactics implemented by the German military during the Second World War victory ultimately proved elusive.
Military policy requires more than muscle and machinery
Despite their tactical and operational prowess and comparable advantages in the technological realm, the German armed forces during World War Two failed to achieve their strategic aims (Parker, 2005). Their failure cannot be attributed to the ineffectiveness of German military tactics per se. Instead, the strategic failures of the German armed forces during World War Two can be traced to the peculiar nature of the strategic ambitions of the German state itself.
These ambitions involved a sharp departure from previous German foreign policy aims that were typically limited to comparatively narrow geopolitical objectives. Further, these strategic failures have their roots in the subordination of strategic considerations to ideological ambitions and the ideology of National Socialism from which these ambitions were derived. Germany’s efforts during the WWII holocaust also hurt its initiatives. Nazi leaders not only fought on the battlefield, they fought popularity issues and a religious attack.
Nazi leadership’s misunderstanding of war policy
The Nazi view of war policy was a sharp departure from that of previous German states. As was the case with European wars generally from the time of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 through the early twentieth century, German wars prior to the rise of the Third Reich in 1933 had largely been limited to specific territorial goals with regards to military strategy (Millet, Williamson, 1996). The advent of the Third Reich was a manifestation of a powerful political trend that emerged in the twentieth century, that of the ideological state.
The United States entry into World War One was characterized by President Woodrow Wilson as specifically ideological in nature in that the American war effort was depicted as a “war to end all wars” or to “make the world safe for democracy” (displaying the first signs of American imperialism). The Allied forces of World War I regarded themselves as engaged in the defense of democracy against traditional Prussian militarism. The Bolshevik Revolution that occurred in 1917 during the latter war period likewise brought to power in Russia a state that was formally committed to the advancement of an ideology.
Nazi’s focus on ideology hurt military policy
Following Germany’s devastating defeat in World War I and the failure of the subsequent Weimar regime, the Nazi revolution of 1933 established in Germany a state whose basis for its own foreign and domestic policies was the ideological extremism represented by National Socialism. Because of this, Nazi military policy operated within the intellectual framework of regarding military campaigns as an instrument of advancing Nazi ideology rather than specifically territorial objectives.
For the political leadership of the Third Reich, the war was not about the defense and advancement of mere geopolitical interests but was an ideological crusade that was not dissimilar to the wars of religion that had been fought in Europe prior to the Treaty of Westphalia.
Military policy wasn’t root cause of failure
The subordination of military policy to ideological principles by the German political leadership during World War Two led to disastrous military decisions concerning the war effort with Russia. The foremost principle of the Nazi worldview was its racial determinism. This outlook regarded the Nordic peoples of Northern Europe as not only culturally but biologically superior to the racial and ethnic groups which inhabited Eastern Europe, such as the Slavs, Poles, Romanis, and Jews.
The crude Social Darwinism of the Nazis considered the Nordic peoples to be in mortal conflict with these other races and nationalities for lebensraum (“living space”) in Europe. A corollary to the extreme racism of the National Socialists was their anti-communism. The Nazis regarding the Marxist philosophy of class struggle, and leftist political theory generally, as the creation of these alleged “inferior” races, especially the Jews. Communism was regarded as having as its purpose the leveling of the relationships between races and nations and thereby depriving the “superior” Nordic race of its supposed “natural” position of world dominance.
Nazi idealism and war against socialist policies
National Socialist ideology regarded communism, and therefore the Soviet Union as its mortal enemy that must ultimately be annihilated. Germany entered the war with Russia while lacking the necessary level of preparedness to engage in a lengthy campaign on the Russian front. Nazi ideology considered the Russians to be an “Asiatic” race.
Because of their alleged “inferior” nature, it was assumed the Russians would be unable to match the superior Germans in military prowess. German leadership expected a rapid victory over Russia and had not considered the possibility of a much more extensive conflict conducted during the course of the severe Russian winter. For example, German troops sent to the Russian front were not equipped with clothing that was appropriate for the harshness of the winter weather they would encounter there.
Germany not prepared for Russia forces
The ideological presumptions of National Socialism severely hindered German strategic effectiveness during the course of the Second World War in numerous ways. Not only were there the unrealistic expectations regarding the war effort against the Soviet Union, but the priority given by the Nazi leadership to the perpetration of the Holocaust undermined the overall effectiveness of the German war effort.
Resources and personnel that would have been committed to the prosecution of the war by a more rational regime were instead diverted to the apprehension, imprisonment, and murder of those declared racial or political enemies of the Nazi state. The proper role of women was considered to be that of homemaker and child-bearer and the Nazis undermined the war effort by failing to utilize German females as a reserve industrial force or in a military capacity. The effectiveness of German civilian society regarding military preparedness and military production was therefore diminished.
Hitler’s arrogance hurt Nazi ideology
The personality and leadership styles of Hitler included a propensity for excessive risk-taking, poor judgment, rejection of the counsel of more experienced military advisors, and refusal to take responsibility for the failures of his own policy directives. Hitler foolishly entered into a two-front war by opening a second front in Russia while still at war with the Allied powers in the West. The German declaration of war on the United States was unnecessary, premature, and led to the strengthening of enemy forces through the addition of a powerful new member of the Allied coalition.
Mistakes caused Nazi Germany’s loss
The tactical mistakes made during the course of the German war effort reflected the ideological foundations of the severe errors of judgment by the leadership of the Third Reich when formulating a military strategy, for example, placing more emphasis on restricting literature and community than military defense. The more prudential tradition of limiting war to narrow territorial aims was jettisoned in favor of an ideological crusade and a program of far-reaching military conquest. Military objectives were subordinated to the concerns of National Socialist ideology and the desire of the Nazi leaders for an apocalyptic conflict with Soviet communism and mass murder of other nationalities.
Ideological objectives contributed to the over extension of military forces, failure to more effectively utilize both civilian and military personnel, and the otherwise unnecessary cultivation and provocation of enemies. German military policy was constrained by a dogmatic ideological framework which led to under preparation for military campaigns, underestimation of the strength of enemy states, and lack of prudence concerning the formulation of strategy. Ultimately, the Third Reich was defeated as much by its own guiding principles as by its strategic failures or the military prowess of its enemies.
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