Why the Treaty of Versailles was not Responsible for the Outbreak of World War 2

“One day, President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.”

-Winston Churchill

There is probably no other peace treaty in history that has been as vilified as the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that ended World War 1. While the great political thinker Machiavelli suggested that defeated “people should either be caressed or crushed” the Versailles Treaty seemingly got the worst of both worlds by humiliating Germany but not weakening her enough that she could not rebuild and seek revenge. Certainly a case can be made that the treaty itself had considerable flaws and helped build resentment and anger that contributed to events and policies that led to World War 2, but that does not mean it was directly responsible for, or even mostly responsible, for the outbreak of war in 1939. Between 1919 and 1939 were twenty tumultuous years that saw disastrous events, flawed policies and miscalculations by nations, missed opportunities and countless other factors which ultimately resulted in a Second World War breaking out in 1939. Hitler’s rise to power was not inevitable, Britain, France, America and Russia made mistakes, and had many opportunities to prevent Germany from developing a strong military, and countless decisions and events from 1919 and 1939 influenced the unlikely outbreak of hostilities in 1939 which Winston Churchill referred to as “The Unnecessary War.” The Versailles Treaty led to circumstances that helped lead to war in 1939, but by itself was not among one of the major reasons that started World War 2.

With hindsight it is generally believed that the Treaty of Versailles was unnecessarily harsh to Germany but this is debatable depending if one accepts the view that World War 1 was mostly due to German aggression. There is question as to whether or not Germany deliberately took advantage of the July Crisis in 1914 to launch a preemptive war against France and Russia due to her real or imagined fears of being encircled by hostile powers; or if she stumbled into war due to miscalculations and carelessly promising unconditional support to Austria-Hungary, which started the countdown to war by being inflexible towards Serbia. What is not debatable is that as the war continued German war aims became increasingly grandiose, aggressive and ultimately sought nothing less than the de facto domination of Europe. As was seen by the terms the Germans had in mind for Belgium and France, (reducing the former to a vassal state and effectively neutering the latter), along with the exceedingly harsh treaty she inflicted upon Russia in 1918 there can be no question that a potential German victory in the war would have seen a far less generous settlement for the Entente Powers.

Whereas the Versailles Treaty in 1919 spared German independence and allowed her to keep most of her industry, territory and resources (losing only 25,000 square miles, 7 million people and none of the vital Ruhr industrial region) the German treaty inflicted upon Russia (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918) stripped the latter of over 1 million square miles including Finland, the Baltic States, Poland, part of Belorussia, the Ukraine, and even much of the Caucasus. This territory included over 55 million people (roughly 1/3rd of the Russian Empire’s population) as well as the majority of Russia’s industry, one third of her arable land, the vast majority of her coal fields and 1/4 of her railroads. Thus, unlike the Treaty of Versailles that weakened Germany but allowed her to remain a great power, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk temporarily reduced Russia to a third rate power. The treaty shocked and humiliated the Russians, but Lenin decided to accept the treaty because of how weak Russian forces were and calculated, correctly, that the Western Entente Powers would win the war against Germany ultimately.

While critics of the Versailles Treaty either downplay or ignore the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk imposed on Russia by Germany, arguable because it was much worse than the former treaty and undermines the narrative that Germany was not overly aggressive and ambitious in her war aims, they usually know next to nothing about the harsh peace treaty Germany inflicted upon France in the aftermath of the “Franco-Prussian War” in 1871. This treaty was no less humiliating and in some ways harsher than the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. It annexed Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, forced the French to pay 5 Billion Francs in war reparations (or 350 billion dollars in 2011 rates) and occupied perhaps a third of France’s territory (including Paris) until the French paid up. By contrast in 1919 France merely regained the lost provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, only a few towns along the Rhine were occupied by Entente forces and the huge sum that the Germans were suppose to pay after Versailles, initially set at 269 billion gold marks was reduced to 112 billion by 1929 and Germany suspended paying the reparations in 1931 after having paid little of the overall sum over the past decade. In fact Britain and America gave more money in loans to Germany by 50% in the interwar years compared to what money Germany paid in reparations during this period. By contrast the French managed to repay the whole sum of her reparations by 1873!

Adding another insult to France the Prussian King William I was crowned the German Emperor in the Palace of Versailles in occupied France in 1871 as well.

However, regardless of Germany’s harsh peace treaties towards France in 1871 and Russia in 1918, or German ambition and aggression in both conflicts, it is necessary to judge the 1919 Treaty against Germany on its own merits. Previous German imposed treaties on enemies did not necessarily justify an exceedingly harsh treaty being inflicted upon Germany, and if the treaty failed to guarantee peace in the long run then it certainly would deserve some censure at least.

Remembering Machiavelli’s quote above it would arguably have made more sense (in hindsight especially) for the major Entente Powers (Britain, France and America) to have either crushed German power decisively or been lenient and hoped a post Kaiser Germany could be convinced to rejoin the international community. Instead they settled upon a far from perfect middle course for various reasons. France, unsurprisingly after having suffered the most of the three powers with 6 million casualties (1/4 of them dead) wanted to severely curb German power. Meanwhile America, which had joined the war late, suffered little, was motivated by the well meaning (though arguably naive) Wilson’s 14 points which suggested to be lenient on Germany as well as producing a more peaceful, liberal and fair post war world. Britain adopted a mid position between both extremes wanting to restrain German power but arguably did not want to cripple it given that it would upset the balance of power in Europe (perhaps cynically assuming it would grant too much power to her traditional enemy France) as well as hurting German finance and trade which the British probably hoped would help rebuild the British and international economics and finance in the postwar era.

Ultimately the peace terms did not secure France against future German power and aggression, usher in Wilson’s unlikely utopian World, or help the German economy rebuild to help world finance and economics. With hindsight a treaty that would have allowed Germany to save face, rebuild her economy but also purge her militarism would have preferable but given the anger and pain felt by the Entente Powers in 1919, as well as their different interests, this was not likely to have occurred.

What of the actual peace terms? Besides the return of Alsace-Lorraine back to France, a limited amount of German territory, with a roughly equivalent portion of population, was given to countries such as Poland, Belgium, and oddly enough Denmark which had been neutral in the war. While such losses were not beneficial to Germany they were not disproportionate and did little to hurt Germany’s population, industry or power over all. Perhaps the most galling aspect for the Germans was the creation of Poland, which was partially carved out of German territory which separated Germany proper from East Prussia and also placed Danzig (a city with a majority German population) under international control. Thus, like the treaty in general, the territorial revisions did not significantly hurt German power, but angered the German people.

Other terms of the treaty included Germany losing her colonies, the aforementioned harsh reparations, as well as military restrictions that dictated Germany could not have tanks, submarines, warplanes or an army above 100,000 soldiers. Regarding the colonies there was generally little anger considering they gave little benefit to Germany and the majority of Germans did not care about them. The military restrictions obviously angered the military establishment in Germany (which had effectively dominated Germany since Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over in 1916) and much of the German population in a society that was heavily militaristic and regimented. While it was understandable from the Entente point of view to disarm Germany which had nearly beaten a considerably numerical and material superior alliance it is obvious with hindsight that declawing Germany completely would not be realistic unless the nation was also divided up and crushed.

However, by far the most insulting term from the German point of view was the war guilt clause which put the responsibility for the war squarely on Germany. Whatever one thinks about German ambition, aggression and war crimes in World War 1 this was not completely accurate, gave no real benefit (besides propaganda value) to the Entente and more than anything else alienated and angered the Germans. Besides attempting to exorcise wounded pride and being vindictive it is hard to see what the Entente Powers hoped to gain from this.

Either way, these were the terms the German delegation was given (or dictated to) when they came to Versailles in 1919: Significant but not ruinous territorial and population losses, a limited occupation of a few cities in the Rhineland, harsh war reparations (though no worse than what they had given to Russia or France), the loss of pointless colonies the Germans did not care about, but admittedly harsh military restrictions and an insulting clause blaming the whole war on Germany. The German delegation was shocked by the terms and wanted to consult with their government in Berlin and hoped to water down some of the terms. This was generally dismissed by the Entente Powers and in a notable verbal protest one of them said “What will history say?” The response by Georges Clemenceau (arguably France’s best leader in the war) was harsh and to the point: “They won’t say Belgium invaded Germany.”

Thereupon the German delegates signed the treaty, its clauses went into effect (though many would later be revised or quashed in Germany’s favor) and according to many historians, armchair generals, and commentators the outbreak of World War 2 was now inevitable. But how realistic is such a line of reasoning? Of course good arguments can be made that the Versailles Treaty had many flaws, and was PARTIALLY responsible for the outbreak of World War 2, but the idea that it made the later war inevitable is absurd. It assumes that the conduct of nations and politicians, their policies and decisions, events, and unseen circumstances had no bearing between 1919 and 1939 on influencing the path to war. The idea that one treaty alone could pull history and humanity by the hair screaming without the latter having any say or chance to influence events is illogical to say the least.

To take a few examples, that would be like suggesting the Franco-Prussian War led to World War 1 simply because of French resentment over the treaty in 1871 whereas in fact arms races, alliances, realpolitik, war plans, ambitious politicians, miscalculations, and a tragic event like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand between 1871-1914 produced what was hardly an inevitable war. Or what if Rome had not taken Sardinia and Corsica after the First Punic War, had not backed Saguntum unconditionally against Hannibal, or the Carthargian military and council been more conciliatory to Rome so as to avoid the Second Punic War? Or look at the Cold War. How many times did it seem as though the Soviets and Americans would start World War 3, and an entire generation assumed they would eventually be nuked, but so many decisions, circumstances and leaders used their initiative to forego such an outcome? As the respected historian Robert Citano once said regarding war and history “What happened happened is not to say what happened had to happen.”

Small acts and quick decisions can have disproportionate effects in history! The ransacking of a French pastry shop in Mexico contributed to the French invasion of that country in the 1838, the search for an AWOL Japanese soldier near the Marco Polo Bridge was the catalyst to the start of World War 2 in Asia. Hezbollah never would have imagined that the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in the summer of 2006 would lead to a major war against Israel and the massive bombing of Lebanon. A Kuwaiti delegation member to Iraq in the summer of 1990 would never have guessed that his insinuation that Iraqi women were like prostitutes would anger Saddam Hussein into invading Kuwait.

High officials and statesmen can also make quick and/or stupid decisions that lead to war no matter how much they would have preferred to avoid it. General MacArthur ignored clear warnings in the summer of 1950 not to cross the 38th parallel into North Korea by the Chinese while his political superior Harry Truman failed to reign him in. The new Sultan of the Zanzibar Sultanate dismissed a British ultimatum recklessly in 1896 without much thought considering his island was vulnerable to overwhelming British naval power and his country’s surrender after a mere 38 minutes made the war the quickest in history. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s declaration of a blockade of the Straits of Tiran in 1967 was made more as a sop to his people and Arab opponents than to antagonize Israel, but the latter saw it as an act of war and this led to the Six Day War which dramatically changed the Middle East.

The point being that no matter how seemingly important and far ranging certain things in history appear to be that nothing in history and human events is preordained or inevitable. The time period between 1919 and 1939 was no exception. Would any rational person or seasoned historian in 1919 have believed that a bitter, poor, mediocre Austrian artist, and former corporal named Adolf Hitler would come to control Germany and lead his nation to dominate Europe from the English Channel to the Volga? Would they believe that this relatively inexperienced uneducated upstart was capable of fooling the supposedly cultured and brilliant statesmen in Paris, London, and Washington D.C. or could out maneuver such a cynical and weathered politician like Stalin?

Keeping this in mind we should look at the events, decisions and mishaps between 1919 and 1939 with more scrutiny instead of being intellectually lazy by merely suggesting Versailles produced an unalterable timeline to World War 2. Between these two dates there was the Great Depression, Hitler’s rise to power, the Munich Conference, the Spanish Civil War, conflicts in Manchuria, Ethiopia, and China, policies to appease Germany, American commitment to isolationism, the rise of Communism in Russia, and Stalin’s opportunist foreign policy. There were treaties and agreements after 1919 that revised certain harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty, internal and foreign distractions for countries that could have confronted Hitler, countless missed opportunities to check German rearmament and prevent German expansion, and unique personalities such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Chamberlain all of which influenced the march to war.

Regarding events, there were plenty of far ranging, momentous, and decisive moments in history between 1919 and 1939 that did just as much to provoke WW2, if not more so, than the Versailles Treaty. The Great Depression is among the top of the list considering in the decade after Versailles many of its more harsh terms were watered down, Germany was recovering, and things were seemingly pointing towards peace. Yet the Great Depression crushed economies across the world, ruined millions of lives, and led to a rise in political movements and politicians that advocated often drastic methods and ideas such as Fascism, military expansion, racial hatred, etc. While some historians like to point a simple line from Versailles to Hitler his party was marginal and relatively unpopular until the Great Depression hit Germany hard and then suddenly his harsh rhetoric and revolutionary ideals had more appeal. For example, in the 1928 German election the Nazi party won 800,000 votes but in 1930 after the start of the Great Depression it won six and a half million votes in another election! And what if Hitler had been killed in his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, or executed or imprisoned for decades instead of surviving and serving a short term. What if Hindenburg, who beat Hitler for the presidency of Germany in 1932, had not agreed to the political machinations in 1932-1933 that led to Hitler becoming Chancellor? Or what if Hindenburg had not died suddenly in 1934, allowing Hitler to consolidate power, but instead lived a few more years and kept Hitler mostly in check?

What if Japanese aggression in Manchuria and China, Italian aggression in Abyssinia, as well as the proxy war in the Spanish Civil War had not influenced the League of Nations and western powers like England and France to be distracted from the rise of the Nazis, German rearmament or fostered an increasingly hostile world environment that encouraged Hitler to be more aggressive? What if the French Army had called Hitler’s bluff when he remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 (German forces had orders to retreat if the French Army attacked)?

What if instead of giving Hitler the Sudetenland during the Munich Conference in 1938 the French and British had backed Czechoslovakia unconditionally in the case of war? The Czech Army was strong, her defenses on the German border were said to be nearly as strong as the Maginot line, the German Army was much less effective in 1938, and Stalin was leaning towards backing the Czechs and Western powers over Germany. There was also the potential of a military coup being organized against Hitler by high officials such as General Halder who feared war at this point and some German representatives of this faction even contacted the French and British. Even had war broken out and Hitler had not backed down, the French, British, Czechoslovakia, and possibly even Russia would have had a much better chance of winning and limiting a conflict to part of Europe instead of the global conflagration that started in 1939.

What about the conduct of the great powers who could have opposed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, German rearmament, and challenged him anytime from the occupation of the Rhineland to the invasion of Poland? Britain, France, America, and Russia missed many chances to avert war, or at least fighting one against Germany under favorable conditions that would have almost certainly resulted in the latter being defeated much easier than what actually occurred.

Even when war actually came in 1939 the British and French had most of the advantages against Germany such and manpower, troop, tank and artillery levels, more industry and resources, American lend lease, etc. As German rearmament and power peaked between Munich and the invasion of Poland this was the time the Germans had the best chance of starting and winning a war. However, it need not have come to this.

Regarding France, she is usually the most scapegoated for failing to stand up to German aggression due to her proximity to Germany, her supposedly first rate Army when World War 2 began, as well as her quick collapse in 1940. But this is extremely unfair. Soon after 1918 America retreated into isolationism, Russia succumbed to revolution, civil war, and the excesses of Stalinism, while Britain disarmed and focused on her empire. France had suffered the most casualties proportionately among these major powers, had much less population and industry than Germany, and after seeing her former allies lose interest in containing Germany the French were left to carry the bag. The fact that by 1939 the French had more artillery and more and better tanks than Germany, and the impressive Maginot Line is impressive given the population and industrial advantages Germany held.

Despite this, France made her share of mistakes (many mentioned above) which led to war. Relying on unreliable allies and the League of Nations to protect her or stop aggression are mistakes in hindsight, as was France’s missed opportunities to confronted Hitler in 1936 over the Rhineland or in 1938 over the Sudetenland. Meanwhile although the French were more likely to confront Hitler than the British in this period they still went along with appeasement even though the French Premier at the time of Munich questioned the wisdom of it famously saying after the agreement “the fools if only they knew what they are cheering.” On the other hand France deserves more credit than the other major powers because she rearmed most effectively in the late 1930s to confront Germany, and tried to form alliances to contain her, more often than Britain, America, and Russia.

Most of Britain’s mistakes overlap with France’s although the former has less excuses because she had more money, a bigger empire, did less to confront the Germans in the postwar period and did more to appease Germany. Foremost was to abandon France to confronting Germany more or less alone early on after 1918. Britain had by 1918 the biggest Airforce and Navy, and the most effective (if not biggest) Army among the Entente Powers so to leave France alone in this period was selfish and tragic. Besides appeasement which ranks high on the list, Britain also dropped the ball by refusing to close the Suez Canal to Italian supplies and reinforcements during Mussolini’s war against Abyssinia. At the least this would have crippled the war effort, and at the most signaled to Hitler that Britain could potentially oppose his aggression. Another mistake was the British-German naval agreement of 1935 (without consulting France) where the British allowed the Germans to build up to 35% of the Royal Navy’s tonnage. On one hand it seems lopsided in Britain’s favor but on the other it allowed the Germans to build far more naval forces than under the Versailles Treaty, obviously disheartened the French, and allowed Hitler to build submarines and capital ships that did a lot of damage to Britain in WW2.

America did next to nothing between 1919 and 1939 to stop World War 2. After rejecting the Treaty of Versailles and the death of Woodrow Wilson America retreated into isolationism until Pearl Harbor. On one hand history and world opinion is unfair to America because she is either condemned for being neutral or entering wars too late (WW1, WW2, Rwanda, Syria, etc.) while on the other she is accused of aggression and warmongering (rightly or wrongly) in other cases such as Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, etc. Yet objectively, if with hindsight, America’s withdrawal from European affairs, and retreat into isolationism after World War 1 had tragic consequences. If Britain and France made mistakes in Europe between both wars America decided not to get involved at all. American foreign policy showed no real influence or importance in this period regarding treaties, appeasement, actions, policies, etc. This was also the case in Asia where America did nothing after Japan took Manchuria, invaded China in 1937 or bombed the USS Panay.

Again, those who criticize modern day American intervention and supposed militarism should think twice before condemning her anti-war and isolationism in an earlier period, but given that America, even after the Great Depression, was the world’s foremost financial and industrial power and had suffered little in WW1, it is regrettable that she did not back France’s efforts against Germany or chime in regarding Hitler’s successive aggression. It can, to America’s credit, be said that America allowed lend-lease to France and Britain after 1939, and did her best to prop up Britain when she stood alone against Germany from 1940 afterwards, but this was nearly too little too late.

What of Russia? Given her terrible losses during World War 1, the subsequent Russian Civil War, as well as Stalin’s brutal rule which included famine, collectivization, and terror campaigns against the Soviet people it would be an understatement to suggest that Russia was too busy dealing with internal matters to focus on restraining Germany in the inter-war period. This was not helped by the initial foreign backing of the White Russian forces in the Russian Civil war which saw British troops in North West Russia and American and Japanese troops in Siberia fighting Communist forces. This and the subsequent behavior of western states that treated the new Soviet state as a rogue regime unsurprisingly led Stalin to be more wary of Britain and France than a weakened Germany for most of the inter-war era. This resulted in some collaboration between Stalin and the Weimar Republic including German tank commanders and pilots training at Soviet sites such as in Kazan to circumvent German disarmament after the Versailles Treaty.

However, the coming to power of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933, along with their racist and anti-communist rhetoric and actions that were pointed at the Soviet Union (and stated openly in Mein Kampf), should have alerted Stalin to the growing danger of Germany. As Mein Kampf clearly advocated aggression against Russia, and as Hitler began dismissing the Versailles Treaty, and rearming Germany’s armed forces it was clearly in Stalin’s interests to oppose Germany. Stalin did in fact do some measures in the mid to late 1930s in such regards by backing the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, telling communist parties across Europe to oppose fascism, and debating backing France and Britain at the time of the Sudetenland crisis had they decided to confront instead of appeasing Hitler.

Yet in the end Stalin did nothing effective to deter or oppose Hitler and changed his focus in the late 1930s to reach an accommodation with him. With the purging of much of his military officers around this time Stalin’s armed forces were not in a great state and as Hitler rearmed, and annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia Stalin foresaw the outbreak of War between Germany and France and Britain over Poland. Thus he responded favorable to Hitler’s overtures in August 1939 and signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which made Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany de facto allies from late 1939 to mid 1941. Stalin gambled that the Western allies and Germany would bleed each other in a long war which Russia could then exploit to overrun Europe. In reality it allowed Hitler to secure his eastern flank after the defeat of Poland (and Russia’s cynical absorption of Eastern Poland) and aided Germany by Russia supplying crucial resources such as oil and wheat which kept Germany’s war effort alive from 1939-1941. Stalin’s folly was clearly seen after the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 which led to the initial destruction of most of the Red Army, the deaths of 27 million Soviet people, the overrunning of most of European Russia, and the most destructive and inhumane front of World War 2.

Therefore, rather than using smart policies to prevent German rearmament, or to contain or confront Hitler, the Great powers failed to collaborate with each other and did not act decisively on their own in such regards either. France refused to use her military when it was still vastly superior to Germany’s during crucial episodes of German aggression. Britain relied on appeasement and did not rearm sufficiently in the inter-war era. America remained committed to isolationism and played no notable role in Europe for twenty years. Russia eventually sided with Hitler only to be backstabbed in 1941. It was a combination of caution, miscalculations, selfishness, and opportunism by policy makers in Paris, London, Washington and Moscow that led to all of this more so than a treaty in 1919 that was subsequently watered down and eventually ignored.

Finally, whatever the flaws of the Versailles Treaty what if it had been enforced? What if instead of watering down terms which allowed Germany to not pay the war reparations and rearm the former Entente Powers stood firm regarding the treaty’s terms? What if Britain and France had threatened or even invaded Germany at the first sign that Germany was breaking the Treaty? What if Europe united in the instance of any clause being breached and instituted a blockade, or trade embargo, that would quickly wreck a German economy that was reliant on imports? It is far easier to strangle aggression in the cradle and the major powers could have easily thwarted German aggression at its earliest manifestation, and could have even avoided a full scale war as late as 1938. In the end it was the discarding of the Treaty of Versailles, rather than the observance of it, that led to war.

The Treaty of Versailles helped create some of the conditions which led to World War 2, but was in no way decisive regarding the outbreak of war in 1939. Hitler was not predestined to come to power and be allowed to flaunt the Treaty at will. Britain, France, America, and Russia could have followed better polices, made smarter decisions, confronted or contained Germany, and exploited several opportunities to stop a major war from starting or at least starting one on terms much more favorable for them. Unforeseen events and trends such as the Great Depression, several wars between 1919 and 1939, and the rise of Fascism created an international atmosphere that was unpredictable, dangerous, and likely to lead to major conflict. The Treaty of Versailles itself was not ideal but many of its terms were later watered down or quashed, Germany was not forced to repay much of the supposedly ruinous war reparations and in the end the treaty was never enforced to any effective degree but abandoned by the former Entente Powers and ignored by Hitler. Perhaps the last word should be given to Margaret MacMillan who authored one of the best books on the Versailles Treaty, Paris 1919, in which she wrote it would be folly “to ignore the actions of everyone – political leaders, diplomats, soldiers, ordinary voters – for twenty years between 1919 and 1939” and that “when war came in 1939, it was the result of twenty years of decisions taken or not taken, not of arrangements made in 1919.” History is not predestined by a few flaps of butterfly wings but the result of countless decisions and factors which combine for the good or ill of humanity.


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125 Things you May Not Know about World War 2

1).  Britain and France had a decisive strategic advantage over Germany when they declared war in 1939:  With the exception of Germany having a bigger air force the British and French allies held all other strategic advantages.  This included bigger naval forces, more tanks and artillery, more manpower (remember the colonial empires), superior industry, economies and access to worldwide resources.  This is why it was important for the German leadership to attack France as quickly as possible and why the British and French in 1939-1940 did not attack Germany because they knew that as time passed they would outproduce Germany and enlist more manpower.  Germany did not beat France in 1940 due to material factors but to her superior military doctrine, aggressive operations and superior communications.

2).  German occupied Europe had more manpower, industry, and resources than the Soviet Union, especially by 1942: One of the biggest myths of the war was of the Germans being horribly outnumbered and outgunned on the Eastern Front.  In one sense it is true that Germany and her allies were usually outnumbered in men and weapons against the Soviets but the ratio of forces was far smaller than usually thought, certainly rarely over 1.5 or 2.0 until late in the war.  What is false though is the idea that the Soviets had more manpower, resources, or industry than German dominated Europe.  After the Fall of France in 1940 the Germans and her European allies were superior to Russia in these regards and after the 1941 campaign in Russia that overran her industrial and economic heartland this was much more so of the case.  That the Russians were usually able to produce more weapons and deploy more manpower on the front has more to do with effective Russian production, inefficient German production, the effects of the combined bombing campaign, and the fact Russia could focus her forces on a single land front while Germany fought on 3 eventually. 

3).  Germany won her battles and campaigns when she had inferior tanks to the allies but lost them after her tanks were superior:  While German super tanks like Panthers and Tigers are idolized versus the less glorified Shermans, and other allied tanks, it should be noted that the former tanks never really helped win Germany any major battles or campaigns.  In 1940 the French had more and better tanks than Germany and lost.  From 1941-1942 Rommel beat off masses of superior British tanks.  On the Eastern Front in 1941-1942 the Germans beat Russian forces in battle constantly despite the superiority of the T-34s and KV-1s.  Meanwhile after the introduction of super tanks like Panthers and Tigers in 1943 the Germans lost every major battle from Kursk to Berlin.  Tanks were merely one facet of warfare, and the German key advantages in the early years were due to superior military doctrine and combined arms tactics which the allies generally emulated or marginalized by the time 1943 dawned.

4).  Finland was the only enemy nation that was not occupied:  Although Finland was technically never a member of the Axis Powers she was a de-facto Axis partner and the only member of the opposing forces to the allies that was never overrun and occupied.  Finland was a democracy sandwiched between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and could not be effectively aided by the western powers.  After the unprovoked attack and defeat by Russia in the Winter War of 1939-1940 the Finns reluctantly threw their lot in with the Nazis for self interest in the hopes of weakening Russia and regaining territory lost in 1940.  After fighting Russia again from 1941-1944 in what is called the Continuation War the Finns managed to inflict enough reverses and Russian casualties to motivate the Soviets to offer terms to Finland.  Although these were still harsh Finland maintained her independence and as such remains the only de facto axis member of the war that escaped allied occupation.

5).  Britain and France fought a de facto world war against each other from 1940-1942:  After the Fall of France in 1940 what remained of unoccupied France, and the French Empire, became a Nazi puppet as Vichy France.  Other French Forces, the Free French, wanted to continue the war while the British undertook several campaigns from 1940-1942 against French colonial possessions, or targets, due to various strategic and political factors.  This includes the British attack on the French fleet at Mers El Kebir and the British raid on Dakar, Senegal in 1940; Britain’s invasion and occupation of French Lebanon and Syria in 1941, Britain’s invasion of Madagascar in 1942, and the British and American invasion of French North Africa in late 1942.  Interestingly enough despite all of this there was never an official state of war between Britain and Vichy France.

6).  German bombing killed 500,000 or more Russians during the war:  While literature about the war has often detailed the massive bombing of Germans and Japanese cities, particularly Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, there is surprisingly little detail on similar German bombing of Russian cities that killed perhaps 500,000 Russians (about as many Germans killed by the Anglo-American bombing campaign).  There is even more mention of the German bombings of Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, and Belgrade than the more widespread destruction of Russian cities.  Besides the admittedly dubious statistic suggesting the Germans killed 40,000 Russians via bombing in Stalingrad in one day most books on the war have little to say about the German bombing of Russian cities.  It does nevertheless provide an interesting counterpoint to the dubious idea that regarding the bombing of civilians in Europe at least that the Germans supposedly had it worse than anyone else. 

7).  The German Navy was crushed by the Norwegian Campaign:  While the Norwegian Campaign is often seen as a brilliant feat of German arms in one sense it was crippling in another as the German Navy suffered disproportionate losses that it never recovered from.  Several capital ships were sunk or damaged, Germany’s fleet of destroyers was butchered, and in the summer of 1940 there was little chance of the German Navy facilitating and supporting an invasion of Britain (which even had the German fleet been at 100% would have been unlikely anyway).  The idea that the Germans ever really had the prospect, or even need, to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy is laughable today as it was back then but either way this dream was impossible after the Norwegian Campaign.

8).  From 1937-1941 Japan attacked all of the major allies and expected to win:  Between 1937-1941 Japan attacked all four major allied powers.  In 1937 Japan invaded China and became stuck in a brutal war until her defeat in 1945.  Despite being tied down in China the Japanese provoked border skirmishes with the vastly bigger, and industrially superior, Soviet Union in 1938 and 1939 which led to the decisive defeat of Japan in the battle of Battle of Khalkhin Gol.  Japan also attacked Britain and America in late 1941.  Thus between 1937-1941 the small island nation of Japan, with limited industry and resources, attacked China (the World’s most populous nation), Russia (the world’s biggest country), Britain (the world’s biggest empire) and America (the world’s foremost industrial power).  Spoiler alert for those who do not know how World War 2 ended:  Japan lost.

9).  Japanese atrocities were as bad as German ones:  Regarding numbers and cruelty the Japanese warcrimes from 1937-1945 were comparable to those of Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately perhaps due to Japan’s shame culture, or America and Asian nations’ efforts to prop up Japan and have good relations with her after 1945, these are not as well known as German crimes.    Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo are often more known to people outside of China, Korea, and East Asian nations where most Japanese atrocities were perpetrated.

However, in numbers and sadism the Japanese warcrimes were far in excess of any American or allied atrocities in China, Asia or the pacific.  Some notable Japanese War crimes include the Rape of Nanking where at least 200,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers were murdered, raped, tortured or abused; the systematic poor treatment of allied soldiers captured by the Japanese (at least 1 in 4 died) and the Bataan Death March where 1000 of Americans and  Filipinos were massacred per day.  Other Japanese War crimes include the inhumane experiments of unit 731 which killed thousands via surgeries, exposure to diseases, experiments in hypothermia and other general unpleasantness, as well as famines which killed millions in China and Vietnam.

Japan was also the only major power to use chemical weapons, against the Chinese, and it should be noted that the Emperor personally authorized the use of such weapons dozens of times.  In statistical terms Japanese crimes resulted in the intentional, or non intentional, death of at least 10 million civilians while Japan’s war in China created as many as 80-100 million Chinese refugees.  The likelihood that most people who oppose the dropping of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki also know about most of these war crimes is probably below 50%.

10).  Russia wanted to play the Western Allies off against Germany but in the end suffered the consequences:  In many modern accounts of the war it is rightly emphasized that Russia did the lion-share of the work crushing the German Army and that between 1941 and 1944 the allies were unable to create a strong second front in France to help the embattled Russian army.  What is often forgotten is that Stalin purposely made a de facto alliance in 1939 with Germany which included giving countless amounts of oil, food and supplies to the Nazis in the expectation that the Western Allies would fight a brutal war of attrition against Germany which Stalin could later exploit to take over Europe.  However, with the swift defeat of France in 1940 this calculus was undermined and in 1941 Russia was invaded by Germany and the two nations bled each other out, Russia lost 27 million people and the main victor of the war was the United States instead.

11).  China fought the longest of any ally, since 1937:  A case can be made that the war started in Asia in 1937, not Europe in 1939, since Japan invaded China in 1937 and the war ended with Japan being nuked and surrendering in 1945.  Considering that the war was a set of inter connected conflicts from Asia to Europe that combined by late 1941 to include all great powers this is plausible.  What is not debatable is the fact that China fought the longest during this period, eight years from 1937-45 while Britain and her empire fought for six, and Russia and America fought for four.

12).  The Chinese Nationalists did much more fighting against the Japanese than Maos Communists:  Despite overwhelming documentation, and common sense, the idea that the Communist forces in China did more fighting, and fought more effectively, against the Japanese versus the Chinese Nationalists has never been decisively quashed.  In terms of the sheer number of engagements, comparing the numbers of combatants fighting each other, the casualties inflicted, and the focus of Japan’s efforts there is no debate that the Nationalists fought most of the battles against the Japanese, fielded far more troops, inflicted considerably more casualties on the Japanese and were the focus of attacks by the Japanese versus Mao’s communist forces.  Today it is well known that Mao purposely avoided fighting the Japanese as much as possible and focused on building strength for the postwar struggle against the Chinese Nationalists.  Considering that today even academics and officials in Communist China’s heavily nationalist, and authoritarian, state acknowledge most of these historical realities proves how false the original myth was.

13).  The Italian Campaign was justified:  Many accounts of the Italian Campaign of 1943-1945 emphasize allied reverses, disproportionate casualties, and disappointing returns for the efforts involved.  However, there were many valid reasons to invade Italy and it did have several important strategic successes.  The allies in mid-1943 simply did not have the resources or combat experience to invade France.  Failing this they had the chance to invade Italy, kick her out of the war and reap several rewards.

Such rewards included neutralizing the Italian Army and Fleet:  The former had dozens of divisions in Europe which the Germans had to replace after her surrender, and the Italian Fleet was the 3rd biggest in Europe and erasing her from the Axis order of battle freed up many allied naval formations to fight elsewhere.  Additionally, taking Italy out of the war opened the Mediterranean completely to allied trade which could now go through the whole sea from Gibraltar to Suez and thus save the British sea routes having to go around South Africa and vastly improved British sea logistics.  On the political level the allies also had to show the Russians they were fighting and since Italy was the only real arena they could do this against Germany from mid-1943 this was perhaps unavoidable.  Finally, even if the Italian Peninsula was not a great place to attack given the logistics, terrain and topography it at least held down many Germany forces that could have been deployed elsewhere.  Given that in mid-1943 it was either a land campaign in Italy for the Western allies or nothing it made sense to attack Italy.

14).  Germanys advanced weapons were a waste of resources:  Much like the attention given to the German super tanks in the latter years of the war too much admiration has been given to German advances in rocketry and jet fighters.  In reality the V-1 weapons were easy enough to produce but besides hitting a big target like London they had little military use.  The much more lauded V-2s and jet fighters were technical marvels but cost to much per unit to be military effective.  Countless more German fighters that had real tactical use could have been made versus every expensive V-2 that could do little more than hit static targets with little more explosive power than a single German bomber.  Even the German jet fighters would have struggled to match allied numbers and would have been hard to be produced en mass many given the allied bomber campaign.  Finally it should be noted that the British Meteor (an allied jet fighter) was also introduced during the war so the idea that the Germans could have won through super weapons is laughable.

15).  The German Army was not very mechanized but based mostly on horses:  The image of an advanced mechanized German army overrunning Europe is pure myth.  From Poland to France, and Yugoslavia to Russia the German Army was supplied mostly from an army of horses.  Whereas perhaps 5-10% of German divisions were motorized the rest marched on their own and depended upon horses for logistics.  Meanwhile the British and American forces were more or less totally motorized and thanks to lend-lease the Russian Army later in the war was as well.

16).  Italys Navy was superior the British Mediterranean Fleet on paper:  Whereas a disproportionate amount of Britain’s Royal Navy, including their Mediterranean fleet, was relatively old by 1940 the Italian fleet was much newer and modern in many aspects.  However, a combination of superior British naval experience, training, leadership and aggression meant that the British navy beat the Italian Navy in nearly every naval engagement including the raid at Taranto, the Battle of Cape Matapan, etc. 

17).  Lend-lease was vital for Russia:  Given that Russia did the lion-share of fighting to crush the German Army, destroying as much as 80% of it, many accounts have downplayed the importance of western lend-lease to Russia. However, while most lend-lease did come after the critical years of 1941-1942 it became crucial to maintain the Russian war effort thereafter.  Around 12,000 tanks, 20,000 planes and enough equipment to supply 60 divisions was sent to Russia.  Two thirds of Russia’s 400,000 jeeps and trucks (which facilitated the Red Army’s impressive advances in 1943-45) was supplied via lend-lease, as was 95% of Soviet locomotives, 90% of train cars and even 56% of Soviet rails; all crucial for Soviet logistics.  Soviet communications were vastly improved by the delivery of 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cables.  Other important supplies included 57% of all aviation fuel, 53% of all explosives, and almost half of the Soviets’ aluminum, copper and rubber; all of which were vital for Soviet industry.  While the Soviet leadership often publicly downplayed the value of lend-lease many of their leaders like Stalin, Khrushchev and Zhukov realized its importance in private.

18).  Americas armed forces were vital for winning the war:  Whereas many books on the war, mostly American, exaggerate the impact of American military efforts in the war the exact opposite (arguing that American forces were not important) is just as absurd.  While Russia’s army broke the back of the German Army the British could not have succeeded in the Italian Campaign, or accomplished D-Day and the advance from there to the Elbe without American might.  Likewise American bombers helped make the bomber offensive against Germany effective and the American naval operations, island hopping campaign, and air operations against Japan were the key factors which defeated Japan.  If American forces could not have won the war without the Russian or British forces the same applies for the latter two needing American forces. 

19).  Germanys potential Mediterranean option after 1940 instead of attacking Russia was absurd:  The idea that Germany could have won the against Britain via attacking in the Mediterranean is far fetched and unrealistic.  Given the logistics, distances, naval inferiority of Germany, and her reliance on Italian naval power in the Mediterranean versus a strongly entrenched British presence there it is highly unlikely that the Germans could have taken the whole area from Gibraltar to Malta and Egypt, Palestine and Syria. 

Even had this been feasible, if the Germans and Italians managed to mass enough military forces in this theatre (and ignore the continuously growing power and reforms of the Red Army) the complete domination of the Mediterranean would not have been decisive to defeat Britain or give the Axis a major advantage.  Britain did not need the Suez Canal Canal for trade in the war to survive, and her major oil fields in the region were in Iraq and far to the east of what the German and Italians could realistically have conquered.  More likely the sheer manpower and supplies needed to control these newly conquered territories would have been a burden in the inevitable conflict against the Red Army, and potentially the United States, in the long run.

20).  The French Army was not inept, feeble or cowardly:  The French Army gets an especially bad reputation in the war despite the fact that British armies from 1940-42, Russian armies in 1941-42, and even America in 1943 did not do much better under similar circumstances.  The French forces fought relatively well in 1940, and had plenty of good soldiers and weapons but were let down by poor communications, faulty doctrine, and passive leadership.  France was quickly occupied as she did not enjoy advantages like the English Channel, the vastness of the Atlantic or the sheer size of Russia which saved these other nations from occupation.

21).  Pearl Harbor was not a conspiracy by Churchill and/or Roosevelt to get America into the war:  The idea that America knowingly let the Japanese sink 8 battleships (the most expensive, time consuming weapons of the day to make) just to have an excuse to enter the war is completely false.  There has never been any credible evidence to support this conspiracy theory.  The Americans and British did receive intelligence of an imminent Japanese attacks but it was never deduced in time where such attacks would occur.  Most assumed the attacks would concentrate against British possessions in Malaya, or the American held Philippines but few thought the Japanese would be audacious enough to go half way across the Pacific to hit Pearl Harbor.

22).  The Chinese Nationalists breaching the Yellow River dikes was the worst man made environmental disaster of the war:  In 1938 the Japanese were advancing on Wuhan during the late spring and were close to reaching a vital rail junction that would have been decisive for the quick capture of the city.  In desperation Chiang Kai-shek ordered the dikes along the Yellow River near the Japanese advance to be breached in order to slow down or halt their progress.  This was successful, Wuhan was not taken until much later in the year and the Japanese did not decisively defeat China in 1938.  However, the human cost was considerable with estimates between 500,000-900,000 dead and 3 to 10 million refugees.

23).  None of the major powers used chemical weapons except Japan:  While Italy had used chemical weapons in her war against Abyssinia in the 1930s, and many of the major powers had stocks of chemical weapons, Japan was the only nation to use such weapons during the war.  This was limited to China, arguably because China could not respond with chemical weapons in retaliation while America and Britain could have.  It is noteworthy that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito personally authorized the use of chemical weapons many times, including several instances during the Battle of Wuhan.

24).  The RAF was not vastly outnumbered in 1940 and actually had many advantages:  The idea that the German air force had a big advantage over Britain during the Battle of Britain is pure myth.  The Germans did have considerable more bombers and dive-bombers, but regarding single seat fighters (which were the vital weapon for gaining air-superiority) both sides started the battle with fairly even numbers.  The Germans did had some advantages such as her pilots in general having more experience while they also had more Me-109s than the British had spitfires.  However, Britain had arguably more important advantages regarding radar, an excellent command and control system and especially superior aircraft production.  In fact Britain’s air defense system was probably the best in the world in 1940 and it is debatable if the Germans really had a decent chance of crushing the RAF.

25).  Americas B-29 program cost more than the Manhattan Project:  Despite the massive costs of the Manhattan Project to make nuclear weapons the B-29 program to make state of the art bombers was more expensive.  While the Manhattan project cost $2-3 billion (in 1940s dollars) the B-29 bomber program cost $3-4 billion.

26).  The B-29s were also used differently than intended:  Although the B-29 bomber was designed to fly and bomb from a very high altitude to avoid anti-aircraft, and enemy fighters, the efforts to bomb Japan from such height produced poor results and bad accuracy due to many conditions.  As such Curtis LeMay changed tactics by low level bombing combined with incendiaries bombs.  This was brutally effective against Japanese cities as the low level bombing gave good accuracy while the incendiary bombs wrought havoc with Japanese buildings made out of paper.  The culminating point was in March 1945 when a single air raid against Tokyo killed perhaps 90,000 Japanese in one night (more than Hiroshima).

27).  Kamikaze attacks were actually a rational, effective tactic:  By mid-1944 the Japanese bomber and fighter formations in the pacific were inferior to the American ones in quantity and quality, and given superior American production and mounting Japanese casualties, it was pointless for the Japanese to fight the Americans in the air head on.  As such Kamikazes had the chance to destroy or damage major targets like cruisers, destroyers, carriers, etc, at relatively little cost.  While countless Japanese Kamikaze planes were shot down before hitting anything they did inflict impressive losses on the Americans including destroying or damaging 400 ships and inflicting 10,000 casualties while losing 3800 less experienced pilots and usually obsolete planes.  Whereas in the last year of the war only 2% of Japanese conventional air attacks succeeded about 20% of Kamikaze assaults succeeded.  Many studies after the war suggest the Americans underestimated how many Kamikaze planes would have been used during any invasion of Japan by as much as half while others have suggested that with more numbers, better tactics and munitions Kamikaze attacks could have been effective at stopping the American advance across the pacific.

28).  Malta was the key to the war in North Africa:  Logistics and supply were the Achilles heel of the Axis war effort in North Africa given the distances involved, the limited ports and shipping available to Italy and Germany, and the poor infrastructure in North Africa.  British controlled Malta, conveniently placed in between Sicily and Libya, was in a good position to interdict Axis shipping via submarine and air attacks and did so for much of the war between 1940-1943.  The German General Staff knew this and suggested to Hitler using paratroops to capture the island in the Spring of 1941 after the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece.  However, Hitler overruled his generals and instead used the paratroops to take Crete in the foolish belief the British could have used it to seriously threaten the Ploiesti oilfields in Romania.  Malta also escaped capture when she was vulnerable in the early summer of 1940 (famously she had only a handful of obsolete planes including 3 named faith, hope and charity) as well as in the summer of 1942 when her air defenses had been pummeled and the British were falling back into Egypt. 

Yet the Axis never attempted an invasion of the island and by holding out, and serving as a naval and airbase, she helped cripple Axis supply to North Africa at critical times such as the winter of 1941 and the late summer and autumn of 1942.  In the end Malta survived a 3 year siege (often helped by desperate convoys launched by Churchill that were attacked mercilessly) and was one of the most heavily bombed places of the war with at least 3000 bombing raids launched against it.  In lieu of this courage and sacrifice the people of the island were awarded the George Cross in April 1942.

29).  The German generals, and regular army in general, were not as clean as they portrayed themselves; it was not just the SS who engaged in war crimes:  Guderian, Rommel, Manstein and other regular army brilliant military tacticians, and operators, are often glorified but seldom are they held to account by posterity by their complicity, or at least turning a blind eye, to Nazi war crimes that were well known to them.  After the war they wrote memoirs claiming ignorance, and non-culpability, regarding any war crimes but historians have since found overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of them were pro-Hitler, benefitted from his regime, and did not care about the plight of the Jews, Poles, Russians or countless other people oppressed groups murdered by Nazism.

Most of these Generals enthusiastically obeyed all of Hitler’s illegal orders under international law which resulted in the deaths of millions of captured soldiers and civilians.  Even the 3 golden German Generals idolized by too many military historians are not untainted:  Guderian accepted bribes and estates forcible seized from Polish land owners, and Rommel was notoriously vain, pro-Hitler, politically naive and Hitler’s favorite General.  Manstein also accepted estates, and bribes, and failed to mention in his self serving memoirs the various war crimes committed by German forces in the Crimea while he commanded there.  Some good sources exposing these myths, and hypocrisies of the German Generals, are lectures by professor Robert M. Citino regarding the German Army in WW2 available on YouTube. 

30).  The Russian Army raped millions of German women, and plenty of Hungarian, Polish, Russian women as well as holocaust survivors:  According to considerable statistics, documentation and other evidence, near the end of the war the Russian army raped millions of women across Eastern Europe.  It is hard to confirm numbers but it seems reasonable based on the evidence to conclude at least 2 million German women were raped and perhaps 50,000 Hungarian women in Budapest at the end of the war as well.  Even Polish and Russian women captured by the Germans, and holocaust survivors were caught up in this frenzy.  Needless to say such accusations have not gone well with Russian Nationalists and authors such as Antony Beevor who have highlighted such instances in their writings, have often been threatened or denounced.

31).  The Americans took very very few Japanese prisoners.  Some of this was due to the suicidal tendencies of Japanese Soldiers, but often it was pure racism:  Although it is well documented that Japanese soldiers were often fanatical, suicidal, fought to the end, or even played dead only to attack unsuspecting enemy soldiers, it seems as though the Americans were not in a habit of taking prisoners.  Some of this was due to the considerations mentioned above but it seems as though racism against Japanese, and anger over Pearl Harbor, also combined with these to produce very few Japanese soldiers being taken prisoners during the war.  This frustrated American intelligence officers who wanted to take Japanese soldiers alive and apparently the most effective means to encourage GIs to take Japanese prisoners was to promise them ice cream if they did so.

32).  British neglect, or even callousness, resulted in the Bengali famine of 1943 which killed 2-3 million Indians:  It has been debated how much Churchill knew, or cared, about the famine in India in 1943, as well as how much of this was caused by British policies or natural occurrences, but there is little doubt that British racism, mismanagement and caring more about military concerns, versus the civilian population in Bengal province, created a terrible famine that killed 2-3 million Indians.  While it is doubtful the British and Churchill purposely allowed such a famine to exist it is obvious that they did not do enough to prevent the famine from happening or doing enough to alleviating it once they knew of the sheer scale of deaths.  British Generals such as Auchinleck and Wavell were appalled by the seeming British indifference in London with the latter being outraged that Churchill later seemed willing to aid the starving Dutch much sooner than effectively stopping the Bengali famine in 1943.  Either way it is clear that this dark chapter in British Imperial History was not Britain’s finest hour.

33).  The Japanese bombed Australia:  While fear of a Japanese invasion of Australia was perhaps overrated considering the logistical issues and lack of sufficient troops that were occupied elsewhere, Japan did bomb Australia several times during the war.  The major raid occurred in February on the Port of Darwin to prevent allied forces in the region from interfering with Japan’s campaign against Indonesia.  Other smaller raids were directed against Northern Australian cities, and airfields, in the next few years but these never developed into a significant, or sustained, campaign as was seen against Germany and Japan by the allies in the latter years of the war.

34).  Japan planned to send subs to the American West Coast to infect American cities with diseases:  Japanese submarines were to be sent to the American West Coast near the end of the war with diseases (complementary of Unit 731) to be launched against American cities to produce outbreaks and massive death tolls.  The war ended before this could have happened but it is interesting to wonder if this plan could have worked, and if so how many people would have died via disease. 

35).  The German campaign to conquer Yugoslavia was surprisingly quick and decisive:  Few campaigns in the war are as forgotten as Germany’s conquest of Yugoslavia in April 1941.  Despite the rugged, mountainous terrain, and a decent sized Yugoslavian Army, the battle was over within a few weeks.  Yugoslavia was occupied, Belgrade bombed ruthlessly, and the German army suffered about 500 casualties.  Admittedly it helped that Germany benefited from attacks by allied attacks via Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy but there are few campaigns in modern history where such a large country with forbidden terrain was conquered with such few casualties by the attackers. 

36).  However Titos insurgents survived the war and helped liberated the nation:  If Germany’s campaign to take Yugoslavia was quick, and relatively bloodless, her occupation of it was anything but.  Instead a brutal war of insurgency, and counter-insurgency, was waged throughout the rest of the conflict which saw many German deaths and terrible reprisals against partisans and civilians alike.  Although Tito’s communist partisans could not have liberated Yugoslavia on their own (the main  effort was eventually done by the Soviets) they were strong and numerous enough to guarantee that they would be in a good position to take over the country in 1945 when the war ended.  Indeed Tito and his Communists did take power and proved to be one of the very few communist nations that remained independent of Stalin’s grip.

37).  Insurgents/partisans were generally overrated regarding WW2:  The idea of the romantic, glorified partisans in WW2 is vastly overrated.  Besides a few notable occasions, like the French partisans at the time of D-day, the Russian ones destroying German communications before Operation Bagration, and some sensational moments like Norwegian partisans destroying  Germany’s supply of heavy water to potentially build nukes, most partisan movements were either crushed, marginalized or struggled to survive.  In Europe the Germans usually killed 20 partisans for every soldier they lost and even on the vast Eastern front they needed relatively few divisions to retain order.  Same with Asia where Japan managed to control the better part of populated China (100s of millions of people) with 1 million soldiers, a similar amount of puppet troops, and a healthy dose of violence and cruelty. 

38).  Submarines were decisive in the pacific:  While Germany’s submarine campaign in the Atlantic, and even the British one against Italian shipping in the Mediterranean, are well known American subs in the pacific actually had the most success.  Although the American submarine campaign against Japanese commerce was plagued in the first few years by faulty torpedoes, and insufficient numbers, by the time of  Japan’s surrender in 1945 most of her merchant fleet had been sunk, her homeland cut off from vital resources from her empire, and it is estimated Japan would have had to surrender or starve by the Spring of 1946.  On the conventional level American subs were also a major success in the Pacific as they took out close to 1/4 of all Japanese ships sunk in the war despite only representing 2% of the American navy in the Pacific.

39).  Americas Army was not inferior to British or Russian troops:  The idea that American soldiers, and generals, were inferior compared to British or Russian ones is false.  Besides America’s defeat at Kasserine Pass in 1943 and some defeats in the Philippines, and the pacific, in late 1941/early 1942 American forces were generally victorious during the war.  The Russian forces from 1941-42, or British ones from 1940-42, which constantly lost to German forces, did not show superior leadership or skill compared to the few American defeats in this period.  Nor did they show superior casualty ratios, or skill, during the victorious years from 1943-45 onwards. 

Any American setbacks in Italy, France or North Africa from 1942-1944 could be compared to British ones in the same theaters, and the Russians also suffered disproportionate casualties versus the Americans throughout the war.  In general Russian, British and American military tactics emphasized firepower, and numbers, and there is no evidence to suggest that American units on average were less combat effective than their Russian or British equivalents.  The Great Military Historian Antony Beevor (who is British) suggested during an interview that in his view the American military actually learned from its mistakes quicker than the British Army during the war.

40).  France is unfairly scapegoated regarding the prelude and beginning of the war:  While America withdrew into isolationism after WW1, Russia actively partnered up with Germany on the eve of the war, and Britain attempted appeasement and did not bother rearming seriously until the late 1930s, France was left holding the bag to confront German militarism, and the rise of Nazism after 1933.  In this context it should be noted that France had less population, money and industry compared to America, Russia, Britain and of course Germany!  As such it is impressive that by 1939 the French Army managed to have (on paper at least) superior armed forces to Germany at least regarding tanks, artillery and ships.  Perhaps France could have done better in 1940 but at the time America and Russia did nothing, and Britain had minimal forces to help France resist Germany.  Meanwhile France did not have the territory like Russia to outlast Germany in 1941-42, or the English Channel or Atlantic Ocean to protect Britain and America from the Germans as well.

41).  Most German generals were not against Hitler regarding strategic and operational decisions:  With the exception of the invasion of France in 1940 most German generals backed Hitler unreservedly regarding his strategic and operational decisions throughout the war.  This includes controversial campaigns like Barbarossa, Stalingrad, Kursk, The Battle of the Bulge, his no retreat policies, refusing to surrender before Germany was occupied and ruined, etc.  While there was a vocal minority of Germans who stood up to Hitler and disagreed with him on certain things (like Model, Manstein, Halder, Guderian, etc.) even their qualms were mostly military and rarely moral.

42).  Japanese leaders wanted to fight to the death after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russia’s invasion of Manchuria, firebombing, blockade etc.  The Emperor had to end war:  While disproportionate literature has dissected the question of dropping nukes on Japan it is not nearly as well known how bellicose, and stubborn, Japan’s leaders were at the time of their surrender in 1945.  Even after two nukes had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Russian Army crushing Japan’s last big army in Manchuria, firebombing gutted the majority of Japanese urban centers, US subs blockading Japan, and Japan’s economy, industry and society were the verge of collapse many of Japan’s senior rulers wanted to keep fighting in August 1945!  The Emperor had to personally intervene to end the war.  Even after this some Japanese leaders tried to overthrow the emperor, many Japanese leaders committed suicide while others led final suicidal attacks against American forces.  These facts are usually unknown, or at least ignored, by most critics of the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan.

43).  Chinas Western allies treated her terribly:  From 1937-1941, when China was fighting alone against Japan, western powers like America and Britain gave some moral encouragement but little material aid against Japan (in fact American oil and trade was vital for Japan’s war effort in this time).  Ironically first Nazi Germany, and later Soviet Russia, were the main foreign suppliers of China’s war effort from 1937-1941.  However, after 1941 the western allies, mostly America, fulfilled this role.  Unfortunately the British and Americans did not see China as an equal partner despite the latter’s massive sacrifices, her successful resistance against Japan, and the fact the biggest portion of the Japanese Army was tied down in China during the entire war.

From 1942-45 the American-Chinese relationship was often strained as the Americans continuously renegaded on their promises to provide sufficient weapons and lend-lease for China, put off or cancelled campaigns they had promised to launch in order to help China, and offended the Chinese by the arrogance and heavy handed manner of officials like General Joseph Stilwell.  The breaking point was when the Americans demanded control of the entire Chinese forces and Stilwell insulted Chiang Kai-shek so thoroughly that the latter demanded his recall in 1944.  While there were often legitimate strategic reasons why the Americans emphasized priority to the European and Pacific theaters, versus the China one, during the war there is no question that Britain and American broke many promises to China, should have done more to help her and treated their ally in a shameful manner that the Chinese have never forgotten.

44).  China did well given her disadvantages:  Many histories of the war disparage China’s contribution unfairly.  It is true that Japan won most battles, occupied the heartland of China, and that China had to remain on the defense most of the time.  Other allegations about Chinese corruption, poor leadership and training, and infighting between the KMT and CCP also have some merit but this is not the whole story.  China did surprisingly well in the war given her many disadvantages against Japan.  While Japan was an united, thoroughly industrialized state with strong modern armed forces which were well trained and led, China was not united (split between the KMT, CCP and warlord factions), had little industry, military forces that well not as well equipped and the quality of her soldiers and generals varied considerably.  Despite this China survived 7 years of war (a stronger France fell in 6 weeks), inflicted several defeats on the Japanese Army, tied down the majority of Japan’s army for most of the war, and forced Japan to look elsewhere such as South East Asia to expand the war to quash Chinese hopes of resistance.  Few military experts, and diplomats, at the time thought China would last long against the Japanese Army but in the end she fought the longest of any allied combatant in World War 2.

45).  Russia gave countless oil, food and vital resources to Germany from 1939-41, did nothing to help Britain in this period, then whined constantly about Britain and America not helping her effectively after Germany invaded in 1941:  Proponents for the Soviets always brag that the Red Army destroyed the lion-share of German divisions.  However, they inevitably gloss over Stalin’s de facto alliance with Germany from 1939-41 which was decisive in securing Hitler’s eastern flank and providing him with enough fuel, food and resources to keep the German war machine going (remember that Germany was deficient in many raw resources and that the British blockade limited her trade).  This de facto alliance between Stalin and Hitler allowed the latter to concentrate on France and beat her in 1940, and also gave Germany an uninterrupted year to attack Britain in the air, attack her convoys at sea and fight her in the Mediterranean.

However, after the German invasion of Russia the Soviets hypocritically adopted a false morally indignant attitude about the British, and later Americans, regarding what they perceived as western reluctant to adequately fight the Germans to relieve pressure on Russia.  This came to a head during a stormy meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow where after considerable bullying by Stalin an angry Churchill launched into a tirade blasting Stalin for backing Hitler with material aid and doing nothing to help Britain in her darkest hour.  Even though Stalin had needed an English interpreter to communicate with Churchill the latter’s rebuttal was so harsh, angry and focused that Stalin knew what Churchill was talking about and signaled his interpreter to stop until Churchill was done.

46).  The Soviet Union did the lion-share of fighting against the German army, and suffered the worst losses in the war:  Whatever one can say about Stalin, and Communism, there is no doubt that Russia did more to destroy the German machine than any other nation including Britain or America.  Soviet forces destroyed 80-90% of all German divisions and bore the main brunt of Germany’s assaults from mid-1941 onwards.  Without the Red Army, and the meat grinder that was the Eastern Front, there is no realistic way the Western Allies could have defeated the German Army, let alone executed successful campaigns in Italy or Western Europe.  The cost was arguably 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilian deaths which was close to half of all deaths during the war and vastly overshadows the much lower British and American death tolls.

47.  America did the most to win the war against Japan:  While it has been well documented that China held down the majority of Japanese troops, and that British, Indian, Australian and other empire troops, fought major campaigns against the Japanese from Burma to New Guinea there is little doubt that American efforts against Japan were decisive.  It was American campaigns and battles which destroyed the Japanese Navy, reduced Japan’s air force, blockaded her home islands, firebombed and nuked her cities, and threatened to invade Japan itself that decided the war.  Chinese, British, and even later Russian efforts at the end of the war, played their part in the  struggle against Japan but there is no question that American forces played the lead role in defeating Japan.

48).  Japan had the the strongest battleship during the war and it did nothing useful for her:  America and Britain are usually censored for their massive investments in Battleships, before and during the war, but by far Japan was the most guilty given the creation of the tactically smart, but strategically bankrupt, Battleship Yamato.  In terms of tonnage and guns it was the biggest, best armed battleship ever made but it never effectively engaged the enemy and was rarely used thanks to the crazy amount of oil it needed (Japan’s oil shortages got worse throughout the conflict).

Ultimately it was sent on a one way trip in a do or die mission during the American campaign to take Okinawa but was sunk by swarms of American naval aviation, in a barrage of bombs and torpedoes, which proved once more the vulnerability of capital ships to small planes and the folly of needing Battleships in modern warfare.  While the Japanese would have been smarter to invest all the steel, and resources, into dozens of smaller ships like destroyers, they chose a brute force weapon like the Yamato that did nothing important during the entire conflict.

49).  Japans bombing of Chinese cities (especially Chunking) is ignored or forgotten:  Much like Japan’s war atrocities her bombing of Chinese cities is usually forgotten by history.  Students of AirPower during the conflict will most likely list off Rotterdam, London, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo but few would cite the sustained bombing of Chunking (China’s wartime capital) throughout much of the war.  While Japan’s efforts, and sorties by planes, against Chinese cities during the war were ultimately small compared to later British and American efforts the point remains that while the British were appeasing Hitler, and America struggled to stay out of the war that Japan was bombing Chinese urban centers with impunity.  Certainly the Chinese had less fighters, anti-aircraft and resources to combat strategic bombing than Germany or Japan did against allied bombers.

50).  Japan had by mid-1942 an empire from Manchuria to New Guinea and Wake Island to Burma:  By the time Japanese expansion was more or less halted by the battle of Midway in June 1942 they had amassed a vast, wide empire.  This Empire stretched from Burma to the Solomons, and the Aleutians to Indonesia.  It included much of populated China, the Philippines, Indonesia and most of New Guinea, Malaya and Singapore, Hong Kong and Burma among other far ranging territories.  Regarding dry land the Japanese Empire in 1942 makes the short list of biggest empires in history.  If this includes the pure geographic area with sea lanes, and islands, it is arguably among the top 3 or 4 empires regarding size.

51).  Italy won only one campaign on her own, the conquest of British Somaliland:  The accusation that the Italian forces, Generals and soldiers in general were incompetent, ineffective and lacked courage is unfair.  Many Italian forces, especially working with German forces in North Africa and Russia, did prove to be effective fighting forces much of the time.  However, the Italian military leadership, and forces, were usually not as effective as their German and Japanese counterparts and often needed German help bailing them out of trouble in Africa or the Balkans.  The only real instance of the Italians winning a campaign on their own was versus the small, poorly defended, colony of British Somaliland in 1940 which the British wisely evacuated when attacked by superior numbers and managed to inflict more casualties on the Italian invaders.  In the end this campaign was for naught when British troops overwhelmed Italian East Africa in the spring of 1941 and liberated British Somaliland.

52).  Fighting allied generals like Patton, MacArthur, Montgomery and Zhukov were overrated:  These names are often remembered, and glorified, but while these generals were often skilful and important they were far from replaceable, let alone being military geniuses.  Patton was great on the attack and in maneuver warfare, best seen by his pursuit of the German forces across France after the breakout from Normandy, but he was never really tested in a major crisis or capable of being a supreme commander given his acidic temperament.  Montgomery was a great showman Britain needed to boost morale but his lackluster efforts in North Africa, and controversial generalship in Normandy, and Market Garden, suggests he was not an equivalent to Wellington.  MacArthur was the ultimate prima-donna who was arguably necessary to give hope to Americans (and the Philippines) in the dark moments of the Pacific War but his supposedly great ideas, and operations, were often borrowed from others while his strategic acumen can be questioned by his quest to liberate the Philippines although the strategic merits of this has been fairly questioned since his time till today. 

Even Marshal Zhukov, arguably the most important allied general of the war, does not deserve such high praise.  Certainly he deserves credit for standing up to Stalin, showing smart strategic thinking in critical situations as during the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, and did much to improve the capabilities of the Russian army.  Yet along with this came a heavy butcher bill (Zhukov was just as willing to expend Soviet soldiers as the average Red Army commander including marching troops over minefields) and petty rivalries with Generals like Konev and Rokossovsky over petty matters which suggests he was not the selfless hero he made himself out to be.

53).  Administrative allied generals like Brooke, Marshall, and especially Eisenhower, are underrated:  Britain and America’s military heads under Brooke and Marshall, and the Supreme Allied Commander of the Western Allied forces in Western Europe from D-Day until the end the war, Eisenhower, are often downplayed or mocked in many histories of the war.  In the case of Brooke and Marshall this is arguably due to their administrative roles in London and Washington that seem less glorious than field commands, while in the case of Eisenhower every mistake, or criticism, regarding the campaign from D-Day to the Elbe is laid conveniently, often wrongly, at his door.  This is unfair as Brooke and Marshall’s major decisions on strategy (especially Germany first), and other vital matters, were vital in shaping the Western Allies’ successful war effort and guaranteeing that British and American forces were well equipped, supplied and led.

Meanwhile Eisenhower has been portrayed, unfairly, as a political General with little combat experience, but he was the best candidate for Supreme Allied Commander because he had superior diplomatic skills, and especially patience, versus any of the other potential commanders like Patton, Montgomery, Bradley or Brooke who would have been more likely to play national interests over allied ones, get easily angered over allied disputes, and forget the political factors which kept the western alliance intact.

54).  Besides submarine warfare South America witnessed at least one significant battle:  During the early months of the war the German pocket battleship Graf Spee raided allied shipping lines until she was found by 3 British cruisers near Uruguay.  The subsequent Battle of the River Plate saw a tactically indecisive result as Britain’s inferior ships engaged the Graf Spee, and despite suffering significant damage, forced the German warship to retreat to the neutral port of Montevideo.  Although not overly damaged the Graf Spee had exhausted much of her ammunition, and taken hits to systems which would have been vital for her to return home.  Meanwhile the British did a deception ruse to suggest that stronger Royal Navy ships were about to arrive.  Faced with a fight he probably could not win, or a journey home his ship could not make, the Captain of the Graf Spee ordered it to be scuttled.  The pursuit and sinking of the Graf Spee was arguably the only notable allied victory in the grim autumn of 1939.

55).  Most lend-lease to Russia did not come until after Stalingrad:  While lend-lease was critical to improve the logistics, communications and capabilities of the Red Army most of came in 1943-1945 (practically after Stalingrad and the crucial years of 1941-1942 where Russia was at her most vulnerable against German forces).  Only 16% of all American lend-lease to Russia was delivered in 1941 and 1942.

56).  Britains involvement was crucial:  While Britain’s war effort has often been disparaged,  compared to the American and the Soviet equivalents, it was crucial to the allied victory.  Without Britain’s navy, and home islands, the Americans could not have set foot in France or bombed Germany.  Without Britain’s Mediterranean and Middle Eastern forces and bases America could never have set foot in North Africa or invaded Italy.  With no Royal Navy or British bases the Soviets would not have gotten any vital lend-lease or help from Western allied forces which were both decisive and necessary to defeat Germany.  In the Pacific British and Empire forces and bases also helped China and American forces, and tied down many Japanese formations.

Britain, with her navy, vast armed forces and widespread bases, provided the glue which allowed the allies to conduct most campaigns, supply each other, and complement their efforts.  After all, outside of the Soviet Union, the Philippines and some small pacific islands what did Russia and America have for strategic bases?  Very few.  What did the British have?  Bases and posts at strategically important points across the world.

57).  Besides North Africa there was plenty of fighting in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran):  The Western Desert Campaign with Rommel and the British is well known but subsidiary campaigns in the Middle East are often forgotten.  A pro-German Revolt in Iraq in 1941, supported loosed by Germany and Vichy French forces in the Levant, was put down by Britain.  Afterwards a British, and Free-French force, invaded French Syria and Lebanon in retribution for the cost of perhaps 10,000 allied and Vichy casualties.

In August 1941 Russian and British forces invaded neutral Iran, ostensibly to remove the supposedly pro-German Shah from power, but more likely to guarantee the Iranian oil supplies for the allies and to create a vital corridor for British and American lend-lease to support Russia.  However cynical this was there is no doubt that the Persian Corridor was the largest artery of lend-lease for Russia which was arguably decisive to keep Russia in the war and improve her forces.

58).  America originally planned to use the nukes against Germany:  All available documentation and evidence suggests that nuclear weapons were not some racist weapon saved for Japan but were originally to be used against Germany.  In the event America only managed to successfully develop the weapons and test them by July 1945, two months after Germany surrendered.  Given that American Air Force Generals had no problem area bombing (including firebombing) Germany and helped create horrendous death tolls at Hamburg in 1943 and Dresden in 1945 it seems questionable to assume they would have hesitated to use nukes against Germany to end the war had they been deployed before Germany surrendered.

59).  Britain and America backed Communist insurgents globally but this should not be seen as cynical when looking at the subsequent Cold War:  During the war there many insurgent movements that sprung up in German and Japanese occupied territories.  Many of these were communist ones, including French and Italian Communist groups, Tito’s group in Yugoslavia and the Vietminh in Vietnam.  The Western Allies gave weapons and supplies to these groups to fight the Japanese and Germans, distract the latters’ forces, and hopes that the former would give them intel or perform vital sabotage against targets such as railroads and communication targets.

However, after the war when the Axis were defeated, and Soviet Russia emerged as the new menace to Western Europe, America and East Asia, Britain and American actively undermined or attempted to crush their former insurgent allies of convenience.  This could be seen as cynical but it simply represented geopolitics, the balance of power, new strategic priorities, and Western action against what they perceived, rightly or wrongly, as Communist expansion after 1945.

60).  The invasion of Southern France in 1944 was useful and not a pointless distraction:  The invasion of Southern France, especially after the successful breakout of Normandy, is often seen as a waste of resources.  However, given the logistical difficulties allied forces had in Western Europe (such as failing to take a major working port until Antwerp) the conquest of Southern France helped immensely as eventually 1/3rd of all supplies for the allies advancing on Germany came through these southern ports.  Given the small forces needed to take Southern France, and that this helped bridge logistical issues, the invasion was worth it.  This invasion also allowed many allied forces in the Mediterranean, Free French especially, to be deployed into the last battles in Europe. 

61).  Stalin killed thousands of Polish officers and intelligentsia:  Stalin’s betrayal of Poland in 1939 with his temporary alliance with Hitler, and his later betrayal of Poland after 1945, are well known but perhaps the murder of around 20,000 Polish officers and others during the spring of 1940 is less so.  Most of these were killed in the Katyn Forest and after the Germans discovered the mass graves in 1943 they invited neutral observers to show it was the Soviets who had murdered them.  For the sake of allied unity the Western Allies went along with Stalin and blamed the Germans but Churchill admitted privately that the atrocities were probably committed by the Soviets.

62).  Canada had the 4th largest air force and 3rd biggest Navy by the end of the war:  Although Canada’s armed forces were tiny at the outbreak of war by the end of the war conflict they had the 4th largest air force and 3rd biggest Navy. Admittedly the navy was mostly corvettes, or anti-submarine vessels, and of course much of this had to do with the fact that by September 1945 the Axis air, and naval forces, had been crushed, but there is little doubt that Canada’s forces played a notable role in the allied war effort and Canada’s massive contribution is often downplayed by Canadians who prefer Canada’s reputation as peacekeepers.

63).  America produced 50% of all weapons in the war including 2/3rds of the allied total:  While American forces, particularly her navy, air force, and eventual army in Western Europe, were crucial to the allied war effort, perhaps her war production was even more decisive.  There is little chance the allies could have won without American production that made 50% of all weapons made during the war, including 66% of the allied total.  Given that the Axis, especially Germans, often had superior weapons, and usually a better kill ratio against the allies, there is no doubt that numbers were critical in order for the allies to defeat the Axis.

64).  Poland suffered the most proportionately via human terms.  Polish territory was also fought over several times:  Proportionately Poland saw the worst death toll of the war.  Approximately 6-6.5 million died of an original population of around 30-35 million which is roughly 20%!  Even the Soviet death toll was proportionately lower.  To make matters worse Poland was fought over several times including in 1939 when she was divided between Germany and Russia.   Eastern Poland was then attacked by the Nazis in 1941 with their invasion of the Soviet Union, and finally in 1944-1945 Poland was conquered by Russia during its advance towards Germany.

65).  Many German Generals thought attacking France was suicide:  With hindsight the invasion of France appears like a cakewalk but at the time many German Generals were not enthusiastic about the venture.  As already noted the French had more tanks and artillery, her generals and soldiers were respected, and many considered the French Army the best in Europe.  However, a few clever and ambitious generals like Manstein, Guderian, Runstedt and Rommel felt the French Army was overrated and Hitler was convinced by studying French politics and newspapers for years that France would fall quickly.

66).  Indias army in WW2 was the largest volunteer army in history:  While Indian hostility to British rule and Gandhi’s efforts at independence are well known it may surprise some that during the conflict the Indian Army became the largest volunteer army in history.  Starting at 200,000 in 1939 it ended the conflict with perhaps 2.5 million men which served in Europe, Africa and Asia.  The Indian forces lost nearly 90,000 men which nearly matches the combined death tolls of Britain’s dominion countries of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

67).  Strategic bombing was decisive (although it took a long time):  There is considerable literature regarding strategic bombing which suggests that the campaign was flawed, ineffective and immoral.  While the latter consideration is debatable a good case can be made that strategic bombing was decisive and important.  In the case of Japan this it is easier to show as firebombing gutted her cities, infrastructure and production and was one of the key reasons for her defeat.  Even regarding Germany the bombing did severely hurt production (especially regarding production targets), more or less destroyed Germany’s synthetic oil capacities, destroyed Germany’s infrastructure by 1945, forced the Germans to produce more defensive weapons like fighters, and distracted vital manpower and weapons to defend the homeland that could have been useful in Normandy, Italy and the Eastern Front.  Notable in 1944 allied strategic bombing either destroyed, or diverted, 50% of German war production which cannot be considered a poor feat.

68).  On the Western front 90% of German casualties were via AirPower and artillery versus 50% on the Eastern front: On one hand Soviet military casualties were much higher versus the western allied ones due to the much higher amounts of forces on the eastern from, the longer period that significant Russian forces had to fight against the Germans, and the often callous indifference of Soviet officers to casualties suffered by their soldiers.  However, the Russian forces also suffered worse casualties because the Western Allies’ advantages in technology, communications, and artillery and AirPower allowed them to often pummel the Germans with firepower before attacking whereas the Russians often had to resort to battering rams of tanks and infantry which inevitably caused more casualties. 

69).  In the Pacific War 47% of Japanese casualties were caused by small arms:  Images of battleships and bombers dominating the island hopping campaign in the Pacific via softening up Japanese held beaches, as well as tanks, and well equipped American forces, overwhelming isolated garrisons of Japanese troops across the pacific are not an accurate representation of the Pacific War.  Almost half of Japanese losses were inflicted by small arms in usually close quarter, chaotic, and personal conditions instead of the often long range death inflicted by artillery and AirPower in Europe.  While American forces in Europe suffered more casualties overall this is deceiving as proportionately those in the pacific were much smaller and suffered a considerably bigger portion of casualties in relation to their numbers.

70).  The vast majority of Germans and Japanese backed their cause and leadership to the bitter end.  The often modern day view that they were coerced, or actively resisted their leaders, is false:  It is true that not all Japanese and Germans were dedicated Nazis, or fanatics, who committed warcrimes or hated enemies which they considered subhumans.  However, the idea that there was a sizable portion of German or Japanese society, let alone among the military establishment, that opposed their leadership, and resisted their worst excesses, is not supported by historical evidence.  The German and Japanese forces fought stubbornly, ruthlessly and usually effectively, until the end of the war while their home-fronts never rebelled, resisted, or seriously questioned the legitimacy of the war.

There were few active resistance groups, or plots in these nations, while after the war these populaces found it more convenient to claim ignorance about war crimes and the evil deeds of their nations instead of admitting their complicity.  Thanks to the advent of the Cold War after 1945 the British and Americans ultimately found it more convenient to ignore most guilty parties in Germany and Japan as they wanted to harness the people in these nations to fight communism.

71).  The Holocaust had supporters across Europe (France, Eastern Europe, Ukraine, the Baltic States, etc:  While Germany never hears the end about the Holocaust much of Europe was willingly complicit in these crimes as well.  Vichy France was rife with anti-semitism and rounded up Jews without any prodding from the Germans.  Poland had its ghettos for Jews, the Ukraine and Baltic states had no lack of willing locals who actively rounded up and murdered Jews, and nations like Hungary, and Romania sold out their own Jewish citizens to appease the Nazis.  On the other hand there were notable exceptions such as German allies like Finland and Bulgaria who refused to persecute their Jews, as well as Denmark who helped her Jewish population escape the Nazis.

72).  Accuracy from strategic bombing was atrocious and remained so for most of the war:  The accuracy of so called precision bombing is questionable even today with GPS and advanced technology but in WW2 it was ridiculous to claim even remotely regarding strategic bombing operations.  A famous study by the RAF concluded a minority of bombs fell within even 5 miles of their targets, America’s supposedly brilliant Norden bomb sight proved to be mostly useless in Europe’s cloudy skies, and even the state of the art B-29 bombers only succeeded when they were used as low level bombers.  In general strategic bombing only accomplished results when bombers were massed, once advanced radar and radio technology were widely available, when elite pathfinder bombers highlighted the main targets beforehand, and Axis anti-air assets could be neutralized or overwhelmed.  The fact that the British and Americans adopted area bombing and carpet bombing and often had to attack the same cities, and targets, over and over again suggests that the accuracy of strategic bombing was anything but impressive.

73).  Rommel was not decisively stopped in 1942 by Montgomery but by Auchinleck:  Whatever deficiencies Montgomery had as a general it was not regarding public relations.  According to many histories Monty inherited a beaten, demoralized army in mid-1942 that was vulnerable to Rommel and that if it were not for his genius Egypt, the 8th Army and the British Middle East would have fell to the Nazis.  This has been exposed as nothing but myths. Auchinleck, having already beaten Rommel in late 1941, also stopped Rommel’s advance in July 1942 at the First Battle of Alamein.  This effectively stopped Rommel’s chances of taking Egypt and ended the  winning streak he had enjoyed since May 1942 which included the Gazala battles, Tobruk and Mersa Matruh.

Although he had been the British commander-in-chief in Cairo Auchinleck had decided after Rommel’s successes to relieve the local commander against Rommel (General Ritchie) and take command himself.  Using the constricted terrain around Alamein, innovative tactics, and focusing attacks on Rommel’s Italian allies, which forced the latter to go to their aid and lose the initiative, Auchinleck won the battle and turned the tide in the desert.  Montgomery and his followers since have ignored or downplayed these successes, as well as placing credit for the planning for the subsequent Battle of Alam Halfa (which had been designed by Auchinleck) with Montgomery.  Finally, it merits mentioning that Montgomery enjoyed considerably more material advantages in soldiers, tanks, planes, etc, than Auchinleck and that after July 1942 the Germans had no real chance of winning the war in North Africa.

74).  America offered Vietnam to China but Chiang Kai-shek refused:  President Roosevelt was known for his anti-colonial sentiment and strove to end Europe’s Empires so it is not surprising that he once suggested to China that it should occupy Vietnam at the end of the war.  However, Chiang Kai-shek, perhaps more cognizant of the centuries of Sino-Vietnamese conflict, and realizing the potential of being bogged down in a potentially protracted guerrilla war, refused by saying “under no circumstances.”  Certainly this seems wise in hindsight given the disastrous French and American wars against Vietnam from 1945-75.  On the other hand Chiang Kai-shek did temporarily occupy North Vietnam after the war, and cleverly negotiated the withdrawal of Chinese forces by forcing the French to drop all their concessions in China.

75).  Paratroopers were overrated:  Histories of the conflict often laud the skills of German paratroopers and shows such as Band of Brothers glorify American ones but ultimately they were not decisive or immensely important.  German paratroop operations in Norway, Western Europe and Crete had their successes but were costly and did little to win these campaigns (the exception being Crete).  Perhaps the Germans could not have won without paratroopers in their operation against Crete but the cost was so heavy that Hitler never authorized an airborne operation again and the conquest of Crete had little strategic benefit for the German war effort.

On the British and American side no one doubts that their paratroopers were elite forces who did impressive fighting in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne and beyond but none of these battles or campaigns would have been lost without them.  It should be kept in mind that paratroopers by design were lightly armed, and reliant on surprise so besides raids or the opening of campaigns they could not operate independently and could be quickly wiped out as was seen at Arnhem in 1944. 

76).  The Western Democracies concentrated their bomber forces on civilians while the dictatorships focused on tactical targets:  It is a historical irony that Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese focused their bombers on soldiers and military targets while democracies like Britain, America and even Canada, hoped to win the war by bombing civilians targets like enemy cities and industries.  Of course this has to be nuanced:  Germany tried a half hearted attempt at strategic bombing in the Blitz while the Japanese also tried some attempts to knock China out of the war by bombing Chunking and other cities.  However, in general the western allied bomber chiefs were obsessed with delivering knock out blows against cities and industries while the Axis and Soviets were more focused on bombing enemy forces to win on the battlefield. 

77).  The German conspirators who tried to kill Hitler were not saints and still wanted to continue the war in the east:  The famous attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944 is often glorified but the conspirators were hardly motivated by altruism.  Certainly they did not favour democracy, wanted to retain much of the territory occupied by the Nazis and wanted to continue the war against the Soviet Union.  They felt little warmth to the Jews, Poles and Russians who had suffered terribly during the war.

78).  In general the Germans did know about the holocaust:  It was convenient after the war for most Germans to claim they were not Nazis and knew nothing about war crimes and the holocaust.  Unfortunately evidence and documentation does not support this.  There were many newspapers which described concentration camps, their conditions and what happened there.  Correspondence regarding soldiers, killing squads and there families often described the details of the holocaust.  Many Germans found out about the final solution from listening to foreign radio stations.  Perhaps most damning was the vast army of volunteers (as in not conscripted) from all walks of German life which were vital to running the holocaust:  Nurses, doctors, teachers, bureaucrats, accountants, tradespeople and industrialists, etc, volunteered to work in the camps and thus knew about their grim purposes.

79).  The Battle of the Atlantic was probably the most important campaign of the war:  While it is hard to know which campaign on the Eastern Front was the most significant to defeat Germany, and western campaigns from the Pacific to France are also debated regarding their importance there is no doubt that the Battle of the Atlantic had to be won to win the European  war at least.  Had the British lost this struggle and therefore could not import enough food to eat, or weapons to fight, so many other theaters and battles would not even have been allowed to continue.  A British surrender would have meant no fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, Burma, etc. 

It would also mean no effective lend-lease via the North Sea or the British held Middle East.  The strategic bombing campaign and blockade of Germany would not have been feasible.  No British base means no American troops on the ground in Europe.  The Americans admittedly could have still fought and won the Pacific War, but the conflict in Europe would have been lost without a victory in the Atlantic since the Russians would not have gotten the necessary lend-lease to adequately improve their forces, as well as the considerable allied forces to fight Germany as well.

80).  Despite the Germany first policy most Americans wanted to fight Japan instead:  While American politicians and generals realized it made sense to fight the Germans, who were stronger and threatened Britain and Russia more than the Japanese, first American public opinion would have preferred concentrating on Japan.  After all Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, American racism was more intense against the Japanese, the Americans sympathized with China since 1937, etc. However, Hitler made the mistake of declaring war on America 4 days after Pearl Harbor and while the Pacific often got more emphasis during 1942-44 than was necessary the American leaders wisely focused on defeating Germany first.

81).  By the end of Operational Barbarossa Russia had lost 4 million troops, perhaps 20,000 tanks and 20,000 planes and most of her industry, resources and a big chunk of her manpower:  Many people today are unaware how massive Russia’s losses were in the last months of 1941.  This included 4 million troops, and maybe 40,000 tanks and planes (effectively what had been the Red Army when the Germans invaded on June 22, 1941).  As Germany overrun the Soviets’ industrial, agricultural and economic heartland Russian Iron, coal and steel was reduced as much as 3/4th, 1/3rd of the Soviet railway network was lost, and Soviet manpower was reduced from 190 million (including territory annexed by Stalin since 1939) to 130 million.  Grain supplies fell by half, Germany’s Empire now had more vital resources to make war (the notable exception was oil) than the Soviets, and Russia’s economy had been temporarily reduced to 1/4 of the size of German occupied Europe.  Russia’s subsequently unlikely survival was due to their cost effective methods of production, German’s likewise inefficient methods of production from 1941-1944, and western lend-lease to Russia.

82).  Hitler and Stalin were both amateur generals who meddled too much.  However, Stalin proved better able to adapt and trust his sound advisors in the end:  Hitler and Stalin were both brilliant political operators but in general were military amateurs.  Some say Hitler was a decent commander-in-chief but realistically he benefited from an immensely gifted military from 1939-42 more so than any strategic or operational brilliance he most likely did not possess.  On the other hand Stalin’s Army was backwards, out of date, and ineffective from 1938-42 (mostly thanks to Stalin himself due to the purges against the Red Army).

The real test occurred between Hitler and Stalin from 1941-43 and ultimately Stalin won out as he was perhaps more willing to realize his shortcomings as a commander-and-chief and began listening more and more to his military experts.  Meanwhile Hitler let his early successes go to his head and never relinquished any real strategic, or often even tactical control, to his generals and soldiers in the field. 

83).  Churchill faced a vote of no-confidence in mid-1942:  While Winston Churchill is seen as the allied cheer leader of WW2, and his speeches and anecdotes are widely noted in most histories of the war, there was a possibility in mid-1942 of him losing power.  While Pearl Harbor had brought America into the war in late 1941 a succession of defeats by German and Japanese forces in the subsequent 6 months took a big toll on the British:  The Japanese conquests of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and Burma, as well as German ships running the English Channel and Rommel defeating the 8th Army in North Africa, severely demoralized the British Homefront and some British MPs organized a vote of no-confidence against Churchill.

While some of the blame in these instances can fairly be put at his door in general Britain was so bankrupt and overextended at this point that it is hardly surprisingly these disasters (and it should be noted the Americans and Russians suffered their share in this period) occurred at the height of the Axis war effort.  In the end British resilience and Churchill’s silver tongue prevailed and the vote of no-confidence was defeated 475-25.

84).  Most military experts and people at the time thought China would lost in 1937-38 and Russia in 1941:  Today most people would think it crazy that Japan invaded China or Hitler Russia during WW2 but at the time few thought China and Russia would survive or win in the end.  China was seen as weak, divided and backwards and would soon capitulate as she had done in countless times since the Opium Wars to the Boxer Rebellion.  Meanwhile the stagnant, oppressive Stalinist regime that had murdered millions via starvation and purges, and had barely defeated Finland in the Winter War was not expected to last long against the supposedly invincible German Army in 1941.  However, the sheer space, manpower and resilience of China and Russia surprised the world and in the end they created quagmires that wore down their invaders.

85).  Hitler would have given generous terms to the British in 1940 had they wanted it:  There is a disproportionate focus on the summer of 1940 in WW2 literature regarding Britain and her decision to keep fighting but it is likely that Hitler would have allowed Britain to quit the war without much cost.  Hitler admired the British Empire and had no designs on it; he was obsessed with attacking Russia and creating living space, but never thought much creating a worldwide empire or attacking Britain or America.  In fact after the Fall of France Hitler sent peace feelers to Britain wanting to end the war without major British concessions but Churchill consistently rejected them.  While with hindsight it is lucky for Europe and the world that Britain fought on there is a case to suggest that Britain was offered an easy way out of the conflict in 1940.

86).  The British bribed Spain to stay out of the war:  For much of the conflict the British paid considerable sums of money to convince Franco to remain neutral.  Franco’s fascist nation had sympathy for Italy and Germany and the latter states had helped him come to power during the Spanish Civil War.  However, given that Spain was bankrupt and devastated in 1939 (the year its civil war ended), and considering she was also reliant upon the goodwill of Britain and the Royal Navy for sea trade it was wise for Franco to take British bribes instead of joining a war that would have done little to benefit Spain.

87).  The British always had a division on standby to take the Canary Islands if Spain entered the war:  Although the British were weary of Spain joining the war on the Axis side they were prepared to invade and capture the Canary Islands had Spain done so.  After all these would have been a boon to either side regarding the Battle of the Atlantic.

88).  Some Jewish terrorists in Palestine saw the British as a bigger enemy than the Nazis:  While the major Jewish military forces, including the Jewish Legion and Haganah, backed Britain against Germany in the hopes they could get concessions regarding Palestine after the war some such as the small Lehi group saw Britain as the main enemy.  In fact they actively sought an alliance with Nazi Germans on several occasions and wanted to negotiate Jewish immigration to Palestine with the genocidal Nazi leaders!

89).  Many Arabs and Arab leaders were pro Hitler:  Perhaps given the repressive nature of British and French colonialism in the Middle East it is unsurprising that many Arabs and Arab leaders saw the Germans as potential allies to rid themselves of the Imperial yoke.  Notable people who admired Hitler included the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Iraqi Prime Minister and a then young Anwar Sadat.  Another common interest of the Nazis and many Arabs was anti-semitism given the fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.  However, it should be noted that in general the Arab Street was not pro-Nazi or Hitler and that there were many critics of Nazism in the region as well.

90).  The Canadian Army was not involved in major and sustained combat until mid-1943:  While Canada made a disproportionate contribution to the allied cause; especially regarding the Battle of the Atlantic, the Air-war over Germany, and war production, her main army spent most of the war standing around in England doing nothing.  Besides an abortive attempt to send Canadian troops to France at the end of the Battle of France, the heroic but doomed stand of Canadian troops at Hong Kong in December 1941, and the tragic fiasco that was the Dieppe Raid there were no other significant land actions by Canadian forces until the invasion of Sicily in mid-1943.  This is unfortunate as Canadian forces were keen, motivated and generally effective as can be seen by actions such as the Battle of Ortona, their advance on D-Day, and the Battle of the Scheldt.

91).  On average 1000 horses died in the German Army every day of the war:  As stated above the German Army was never close to being fully mechanized and they relied heavily on horses.  The cost was millions of horses as perhaps 1000 died on average per day during the war.  If you are an animal lover like me this is probably the saddest thing you will see on this list.

92).  On average from the invasion of Russia until Germany was defeated (June 1941-May 1945) the Soviets lost roughly 20,000 dead every day, which was the same amount of British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme Offensive in 1916:  If you are well acquainted with British military history you may know that nearly 20,000 British soldiers died during the first day of the Somme Offensive in 1916.  This was the worst day in the history of the British Army and has been well documented and lamented.  However, the Soviet Union lost roughly the same number of civilians and soldiers on average EVERY DAY from Hitler’s invasion to the surrender of Berlin in 1945.  To put this in perspective Canada lost 45,000 during the war, while Britain and America themselves did not suffer over 500,000.  The point being that on average every month the Soviet Union lost more people than either Britain and America.

93).  The deadliest day of World War 2 was not in Russia, or even Hiroshima, but a raid on Tokyo in March 1945:  Despite the Holocaust by the Nazis, and the barbarism shown by the Japanese the single worst death toll of any day of the war, in fact of all history, was due to the American fire bombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945.  At least 90,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed and this outstrips even Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in the short term at least). 

94).  The Axis forces killed far more people, mostly civilians, than the the allies which killed mostly soldiers:  As the Historian Victor Davis Hanson often notes the Axis forces killed a disproportionate amount of civilians whereas the allies killed mostly Axis soldiers.  First off it needs to be EMPHASIZED that the Axis forces killed far more people, soldiers and civilians, than allied forces did.  This may surprise some people given that the allied powers ultimately had massive advantages in manpower, resources, production, as well as the carnage wrought by strategic bombing, nuclear weapons and Russian war crimes.

However, total Axis deaths represent 17-20% (including 4-5% civilian) of all deaths in the war compared to a stunning 77-83% (including 50-58% civilian) regarding allied deaths.  This means that for every Axis civilian death there was perhaps 10 to 15 allied ones while the Axis still killed at least 2 soldiers for any they lost (although on several fronts like the Eastern Front and China the Axis managed higher kill/death ratios).

The lion-share of allied civilians deaths occurred on the Eastern Front, China and Eastern Europe and were mostly the result of genocidal practices, or unnecessary cruelty, that served no military purpose while the FAR fewer Axis civilian casualties were often the results of strategic bombing and nuclear weapons, that were aimed at destroying Axis production and ending the war sooner (although admittedly Russian atrocities and other allied shameful acts like the Bengali famine or American treatment of Japanese captives show the allies were not saints either).  Needless to say Neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, and ultranationalist Japanese tend to ignore these inconvenient truths.

95).  Japan was an expanding empire, America wanted to be left alone:  The quip that “history is written by the victors” is relative.  While the nations who suffered under Japanese imperialism know a lot about Japan’s war crimes and aggression many people in the outside world, including America, Canada and Western Europe often hear little of this but usually know about Hiroshima and the firebombing of Japan.  The fact remains that after the Meiji reforms Japan was set on making a widespread Empire and kept expanding from her wars again China and Russia (1894-1905), taking Germany’ pacific colonies in WW1, and attacking China, Russia and South East Asia from 1937-1941.

Meanwhile, besides the brief Spanish-American War and some small conflicts America had little wish to expand and get involved in wars during this time.  Again it should be noted that it was German subs that provoked America into WW1 and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that forced America into WW2.  Today people often see America as the world’s police at best, or an empire at worst, but in the 1930s had America retreated into isolationism and wanted to be left alone.

96).  The Russian intervention again Japan at the end of the war was arguably decisive but it also created a host of postwar issues that would plague America and East Asia:  The Soviet campaign against Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea at the end of the war was brief but potentially decisive in ending the war.  Although it has rightly been pointed out that the Russian campaign came around the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that Japan was close to surrendering the Soviet intervention in the war was important in convincing the Emperor that Japan could not continue the war.  The Japanese were shocked by the Soviet attack (indeed they had been hoping for Soviet mediation to end the war) and in a matter of weeks their big army in Manchuria and North Korea was decisive routed and 100s of thousands of Japanese prisoners were taken (a big portion of which would die in harsh soviet captivity.  This, coupled with the American nukes, effectively shocked the Japanese leadership and motivated Emperor Hirohito to surrender in mid-1945.

However, the price of Soviet intervention was steep as it gave the Soviets significant influence in East Asia by their capture of Manchuria and North Korea.  In the former they handed territory, as well as Japanese arms, over to Mao’s Communist forces who used Manchuria as their base in the subsequent last phase of the Chinese Civil-War (1946-49).  This helped Mao beat the Chinese Nationalists in this conflict and led to the establishment of Communist China, and later to Chinese support of the Vietminh which proved decisive in the latter outlasting the French and Americans in Vietnam.  The Soviet occupation of North Korea also resulted in the division of the Korean Peninsula, the brutal Korean War in the 1950s, and the standoff between American and South Korean forces and the brutal communist dictatorship in the north that continues to this day. 

Perhaps Stalin would have attacked Japan without American prodding anyway but there is no doubt that America’s desperation to win the Pacific War as quickly as possible led to quick Soviet intervention which helped America beat Japan in the short term but resulted in long term head aches from communist influence spreading across East Asia.

97).  America executed a single GI in the war for desertion:  Although many American soldiers were charged and convicted of desertion only one, Private Eddie Slovik, was ever executed.  Slovik deserted during the controversial, bloody, and generally forgotten battle of Hurtgen Forest in late 1944 and as American desertion rates increased dramatically in the last months of the European war Eisenhower ignored Slovik’s pleas for clemency and approved his executed in early 1945.  In contrast the Soviet’s treatment for desertion was widespread and bloody, including countless thousands of executions and often the imprisonment of the offenders’ families.

98).  British and American casualties form Normandy until the end of the war were often as equal to the brutal slogs of WW1:  Despite considerable advantages over their predecessors in WW1 regarding firepower, equipment, a far weaker German Army, and the fact that the Russians tied down most of the German forces, casualty rates in the Western Armies in Western Europe in the last year of the war approached the brutal rates of the Western Front in 1914-1918.  Posterity has been kinder to the WW2 western generals than those of WW1, arguably because of their more impressive advances (thanks to advances in maneuver warfare and communications) and less death tolls overall.  But the fact remains that their respective casualty ratios were similar and given the former’s advantages there is little reason to believe western generals in WW2 were superior to those in WW1.

99).  The Germans made jet fighters, rockets and tiger tanks but never a single reliable truck model to ease logistics:  While the Germans produced the best quality tanks during the war, and had a lead in jet propulsion and rocketry they never focused on producing, simple, easy to mass produce, supply trucks that would have been more beneficial to their war effort.  German super tanks, jet fighters and V2s were impressive on paper but their sheer cost and small numbers overall did not make any notable difference in the war.  Meanwhile exceedingly cheaper fleets of supply trucks that could have eased logistics and elsewhere (which arguably could have been decisive in 1941-1942) were never produced or contemplated.  Instead the relatively few rockets, tanks and jet fighters scored some minor tactical victories while Germany’s massive hordes of horses proved unequal to supply her armed forces versus the Western Allies, and eventually Russia, that benefited from fleets of trucks that were much more efficient.

 100).  Germany did not think France and Britain would declare war over Poland:  Hitler was evil, irrational and genocidal but he did not expect a war against the Western Powers in 1939.  Rather, given the appeasement and indifference he saw from them since WW1 he expected France and Britain would back down over Poland in 1939.  As stated above the British and French had the overall geopolitical advantage versus Germany, Hitler’s Generals were nervous about a major war in 1939, and according to Hitler’s doctrine and Mein Kampf his focus was to attack Russia and expand eastwards.  As such it was a real shock to Hitler and his underlings when Britain and France declared war.

101).  The Germans sucked at cost effective war production for most of the war:  Given the myth of ruthless German efficiency, and the fact Britain and Russia often outproduced Germany in many weapons in most years of the war, people are often shocked to realize that according to manpower, resources and industry the Germans should have been able to outproduce Britain and Russia COMBINED after the Fall of France (and especially after the loss of Western Russia in 1941).  However, there are several reasons to explain why German production was sluggish for most of the war.  Firstly, unlike the British and Russians who mobilized their industrial manpower fully at the outbreak of war, including women, the Germans refused to use women initially and often had factories working only 1 or 2 shifts per day for much of the war while the allies were more thorough and usually had 3 shifts working per day.  More shifts and more workers unsurprisingly means MORE weapons produced. 

Another German disadvantage regarding mass production was that the average German war platform (tank, plane, etc.) had far more modifications and specifications versus allied ones, as well as more input from Generals and soldiers, which put production plans in chaos as production models had to be changed constantly which again meant far fewer tanks, planes, and other weapons.  It should be noted that such German modifications often gave significant combat edges to these weapons but since they were heavily outnumbered it really did not matter if the Germans could produce 1400 Tiger tanks versus 50,000 Sherman ones. 

Finally the Germans had countless more models of weapon platforms, usually dozens or more versus a handful of equivalent allied ones, which again means far fewer Axis platforms and weaponry.  As noted in Richard Overy’s Why the Allies Won while the Allies tended to have a few reliable models of aircraft, tanks, etc, the Germans at one point had 425 different types of planes, 150 types of lorries and even 150 types of motorcycle… hardly a recipe to maximize mass production.  Admittedly by 1944 smart measures but Albert Speer increased German production to more impressive levels but the combined strategic bombing campaign against Germany and America’s massive war production meant this was too little, too late.  Germany did produce some amazing tanks and planes that could outfight their allied equivalents but they were never sufficiently superior to compensate for the hordes of allied weaponry.  On paper the Germans should have outproduced the Russians and British and had they focused on production of simple yet efficient weapons (like Panzer 3s and 4s and Me-109s) instead of overly costly ones they arguably could have won before American arms became overwhelming after 1942.

102).  The Finns nearly defeated the Russians with skies, and Molotov cocktails:  Being outnumbered in manpower 50-1, with little industry, resources, or outside help, the Finns did very well against the Russians during the brief Winter War of 1939-1940.  The Russians had tanks, bombers and masses of soldiers but for most of the war the Finns used terrain, mobility, guerrilla tactics, scorched earth, and skies and small arms to inflict disproportionate casualties and hold the Russian advance.  Admittedly Finnish territory was littered with lakes, forests, and poor communications that hampered the Russian’s moves but it is impressive that the Finns with small weaponry inflicted at least a 5-1 casualty ratio, and held out several months against the biggest country and army in the world.  In the end the Russians won but did not inflict a decisive defeat as the Finns, allied to Germany, would attack Russia in 1941 and fight until late 1944.

103).  The Germans did not understand the Russian winter:  The German Generals pretended they were experts of military history but that did not save them in late 1941 when the Russian winter hit them brutally.  German soldiers did not have warm coats, their tanks, planes and other equipment often could not work, and their whole advance broke down.  In what was arguably the overall turning point of the war the German Army was hit hard, pushed back and suffered disproportionate casualties from which it never really recovered.  Even if the Germans had expected that most Russian resistance would have crumbled before the end of 1941 it was sheer hubris, incompetence, and poor planning that they would not have had the proper clothing, equipment and supplies to deal with winter conditions if the war been won and they merely had to occupy Russian territory.  The average person knows that it snows, and gets very cold, in Russia during the winter.  Nothing shows how overrated German efficiency was during the war than this.

104).  The German investment in battleships and big ships was stupid:  Too many histories glorify the Bismarck, Tirpitz, Graf Spee, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau although strategically they won no campaigns or notably influenced the war.  Germany won in Norway due to her AirPower, and better preparations and not because of the actions of her surface fleet (which suffered prohibitive casualties there).  The Bismarck sank the hood, and the Graf Spee had an interesting career in 1939 but both were quickly found, hunted down and destroyed.  Germany’s other capital ships did admittedly tie down significant British naval forces, often messed with British convoys to Russia, resulted in disproportionate raids by bomber command to take them out, and humiliated Britain in the Channel Dash of 1942.

However, none of this affected the out outcome of the war and most of the time these ships sat in port and saw little combat.  Some estimates suggest Germany could have built 20 or more submarines instead of the Bismarck and one wonders how many other subs could have been made had the German navy not built her other over costly capital ships.  Certainly Britain already had an unbeatable lead in capital ships, carriers and cruisers in 1939 and there is no way the Germans had the capacity or even ship building industry to challenge, let alone surpass, this even with their subsequent territorial acquisitions.  Meanwhile the Germans could have invested more in subs, and submarine tech and some of their more modern designs arguably had potential to wreak havoc in the Atlantic. 

105).  The idea that the war could have been ended by conditional surrender is absurd:  The allied policy of non-conditional surrender has been vilified but realistically there was little chance that Hitler, Tojo, or the Japanese Emperor would have accepted such terms.  Again they started the war, supported such grandiose and ruthless war aims, and actively encouraged genocide and an all out fight to the death.  The one supposed exception, the plot to kill Hitler in 1944, still saw the conspirators wanting to continue to fight on the Eastern front and keep much of Germany’s captured territories, rather than surrender.  The Axis leadership who thought they could conquer territories and nations that were superior to them in manpower and resources, and who relied on ideologies that were racist, heavily militaristic, darwinistic, and fatalistic were obviously not the best rational candidates to accept conditional surrender. 

While proponents of conditional surrender express outrage regarding supposed allied stubbornness they have never effectively articulated how the war would have ended earlier with a compromise peace?  Would Hitler remain in power? Would Germany have been able to keep some of her gains?  Would the Japanese have been allowed to keep Manchuria, much of China or other territories?  Would war criminals have been excused and reparations forgotten?  Most proponents of unconditional surrender fail to realize that power hungry, often evil, irrational and fatalistic Nazi and Japanese officials were committed to fight to the death and kill as many as people as possible rather than surrender.

These people were not bean counts, career politicians, or rational actors who by the turn of the war in 1943 suddenly realized they should have made peace but were constrained by the allied declaration of unconditional surrender!  The fact that Italy (that other major Axis player) was allowed to surrender with reasonable conditions in 1943, or that many Japanese die hards wanted to fight to death after nukes were dropped, Russia entering the war, and an impending invasion of Japan by America beckoned in late 1945 suggests that the allies were more reasonable than the Axis were not crazy.

Meanwhile if there was an assumption that the lack of unconditional surrender would have lead to uprisings or coups in Germany, and Japan, that would have led to quicker peace this is again absurd since the German resistance was tiny, that the conspirators against Hitler in 1944 were still committed to fighting the Russians, and that no resistance worth the name existed against Japanese militarism and warmongering in Japan at the time.

106).  It made sense for Hitler to attack Russia:  There is a lot of literature suggesting that attacking Russia was Hitler’s ultimate mistake but it was arguably his best option in 1941.  The British, who had good war production and helped by American lend-lease, were far from weak and vulnerable in the spring of 1941.  With a vastly superior navy, and strong air force, there was little chance of a successful German invasion while Germany’s submarine fleet sunk a lot of ships but was in no position to starve England at the time.  Likewise even a full fledged German and Italian effort to conquer the Mediterranean from Gibraltar, Malta to Egypt would not have been decisive even had it been logistically feasible.

Meanwhile Germany’s land forces were potentially far more lethal against the Red Army in 1941 which was still relatively inept, and ill-equipped, despite Stalin’s efforts to improve its capabilities since his purges in the late 1930s.  Frankly time benefited Russia as she was continuing to reform and improve her forces and Russia’s war production was also superior to Germany’s at the time.  Given all of these factors it is hard to believe that the Red Army would have been weaker in 1942 and since there was little chance of beating Britain Hitler’s invasion of Russia was arguably the best option he had considering Stalin was planning to backstab Germany in the long run anyway.

107).  Luxembourg is usually forgotten despite its key location in 1940 and 1944:  Unsurprising for a small country with little international pull Luxembourg is often forgotten in many histories of the war.  Yet her location saw important fighting during Germany’s offensive against France in 1940 and Hitler’s last gamble in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  By attacking through the Ardenne forests of Luxembourg, and southern Belgium, in 1940 the Germans took the French completely by surprise and conquered France in 1940.  Likewise the Germans fooled the allies again in December 1944 and initially pushed back the American forces in France to a significant degree.  Despite this, and Luxembourg’s fair share of suffering in the war, many histories do not even mention the nation even regarding these campaigns. 

108).  The Atlantic Gap was finally beaten by escort carriers and the Azores:  For much of the war a big part of the mid-Atlantic, which could not be covered by air patrol launched from bases in Europe and North America, saw German U-Boats wreak havoc on allied merchant ships.  Without air cover allied merchant convoys suffered disproportionate losses in this area.  Eventually though the allies addressed this situation by acquiring air bases in the Azores (via Neutral Portugal) as well as constructing a fleet of escort carriers (small aircraft carriers) which could launch planes to provide constant air cover for convoys.  These initiatives, along with advances in radar, more escort ships, and better anti-submarine technology, effectively won the Battle of the Atlantic by mid-1943.

109).  The Allies did not fight for democracy, minority rights, religious freedom etc, but balance of power, miscalculation, and being invaded:  Despite the fact that World War 2 was probably the most costly, inhumane, and destructive war in history with unparalleled warcrimes, it is often labelled the Good War; seen as more just than subsequent wars like in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or previous ones like WW1, the Napoleonic Wars, etc.  Yet the allied causes of the war were generally not altruistic or noble.  China’s war was admittedly pure as she simply wanted to resist Japanese expansion, and be left alone, but regarding the other main allied nations the truth is less palatable. 

It is respectable that France and Britain finally took a stand against Germany in 1939 but it was not about lofty principles like stopping Anti-Semitism or protecting democracy:  There was plenty of hostility against Jews in Europe, including France and Britain, and it is ironic that Britain and France drew the line against Germany by backing Poland (a military dictatorship) while they abandoned democratic Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.  Russia initially backed Germany to bleed out Britain and France in what Stalin expected would be a mutual war of exhaustion that he could exploit to ultimately dominate Europe but was betrayed by Hitler in 1941 and fought merely to survive.  American books talk about how the war saved democracy and guaranteed tolerance, and equality, yet America had to be attacked to enter the war and not only were American forces racist against Japanese enemies but also their own black and other minority troops.  Essentially Britain and France declared war to maintain the balance of power in Europe, Russia miscalculated and got punished for it, and America had to be attacked to enter the war.

110).  But despite all the terrible things the war was just overall:  As cynical as the allied cause often was, and even with Stalin on the winning team, their triumph was immensely more beneficial for the world versus any potential Axis victory.  The Germans would not have been as merciful, tolerant and built up Western Europe after the war versus America and Britain.  Meanwhile although Stalinism was not exactly soft to East Germany, or Eastern Europe, they never implemented the crazy genocidal plans Hitler had for the East which deliberately planned to depopulate the region by starving or killing 10s of millions of Slavs and Russians.

Whereas the Japanese were cruel, sometimes genocidal, against a weak China, and others, the Americans not only showed benevolence and mercy to a defeated Japan but also propped her up and helped her become an economic powerhouse.  America would be plagued by the wars in Korea and Vietnam but realistically the Japanese occupation and oppression in both were already bad enough (Japan’s occupation of Korea was exceedingly) cruel while several million Vietnamese died via famine during the war.  Given that Japan killed 10s of millions of Asians in her short  Imperialistic timeline, and showed no tolerance of dissension, is it really realistic that East Asia would today still have the economic prosperity, increased standard of living, and democracies in the region had Japan won?

With the establishment on the UN, along with initiatives to end diseases, attempts to enforce human rights, make mechanisms to prevent wars, and at least attempt diplomacy it is hard to see an Axis led world being more peaceful and progressive (whatever the UN or postwar order failures).  Notably there has been no wars between major powers since 1945 (although plenty of proxy ones admittedly) and it is hard to believe strengthened, and emboldened, Axis powers would have been less bellicose after winning a world war.  It is always hard to calculate the what ifs of history never made but perhaps the best verdict on the justice of the allied cause was summed up by Max Hastings in the conclusion of All Hell Let Loose

“Allied victory did not bring universal peace, prosperity, justice or freedom; it brought merely a portion of those things to some fraction of those who had taken part.  All that seems certain is that Allied victory saved the world from a much worse fate that would have followed the triumph of Germany and Japan.  With this knowledge, seekers after virtue and truth must be content.”

111).  Switzerland stole Jewish wealth (via the Nazis) and never gave it back:  The Swiss love portraying themselves as neutral but they had no problem of accepting blood money from Jewish victims of Nazi oppression.  On one hand this is understandable, and potentially forgivable at the time at least, if you consider that by the end of 1940 Switzerland was surrounded by German and Axis forces and had to accommodate them to survive (the idea that the Swiss could have held out against a German invasion where countless nations had not is a myth and not based on any credible military analysis). What is less forgivable is that since 1945 the Swiss have never given this wealth back or acknowledged these historical unpleasantries after the threat of Nazism was removed. 

112).  The Maginot Line was impressive, state of the art, and failed:  The Maginot Line can be seen as overly defensive but it was remarkable sophisticated, modern, lethal, and arguably the strongest defensive line of either World War. However, despite all of this it was surely a waste of money and resources, with hindsight at least, that the French could have spent creating a stronger air force, modernizing their antiquated communications, investing in anti-tank weaponry, or anything else instead of propping up a static line that was ultimately outflanked and rendered useless.

Besides the obvious defensive mentality it influenced on the French perhaps the most damning indictment was by General Alan Brooke who lamented it “gave me but little feeling of security, and I consider that the French would have done better to invest the money in the shape of mobile defenses such as more and better aircraft and more heavy armored divisions than to sink all this money into the ground.”

113).  America fought on countless fronts:  Many histories of the war emphasize Germany fighting on 2 or more fronts, or Britain’s or Japan’s far fledged campaigns but America arguably had to fight on the most fronts (or at least had to fight strongly on the most fronts).  Russia deserves credit for crushing the German but only had to fight on one front.  China had to hold down most Japanese divisions but again only had to fight on two (if you include her fighting in Burma).

Meanwhile at the height of the war America fielded the strongest army on the Western Front in 1944-45, waged an aggressive strategic bombing campaign over Germany from 1943-45, was heavily engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic from 1942-45, was involved in the bitter Italian Campaign of 1943-45, fought the Japanese along the Central Pacific along island chains to Okinawa, and through New Guinea to the Philippines, and conducted a strategic bombing campaign that brought Japan to her knees.  America did this as well as providing lend-lease to Russia, Britain, China, the Free French and others.  It is fair to point out that the Chinese, British and Empire, and Russian forces all fought longer in the war, and had their decisive contributions to the war, but it is unfair to disregard America’s considerable efforts over many fronts.

114).  The Ford Company produced more weapons than Italy:  According to Richard Overy’s Why the Allies WonAmerica’s Ford company produced more weapons than Italy during the war.  While statistics without context could be considered irrelevant it is surely a sign of how much the allies enjoyed a decisive industrial lead that a single American company could outproduce Hitler’s primary ally.

115).  Britain did ok for herself when she was alone:  While it is often implied that Britain fought a desperate, and losing, battle when she faced Germany mostly alone from June 1940 to June 1941 Britain actually did well given her situation.  She won the Battle of Britain on her own, humiliated Italy’s modern fleet in the Mediterranean, and defeated the far stronger Italian forces in East Africa and Libya.  She also neutralized many Axis and Vichy French forces in Europe and the Middle East.  If Britain did suffer defeats against Germany in Greece, Crete and North Africa she also inflicted disproportionate casualties against German paratroopers on Crete and stopped Rommel decisively during his first assaults against Tobruk in 1941 (the first time the German Army lost a significant land battle in WW2).  Whatever defeats Britain suffered in this period her arms production was impressive, the Axis never gained a notable advantage or came close to beating Britain, and the British accomplished many notable victories despite being more or less alone in the war. 

116).  Germany and Japan never had any realistic chance or means to invade America:  That annoying quote that says “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics” is ultimately correct regarding military history.  Even forgetting the fact that the Germans did not have the forces or supplies to conquer Britain and Russia, or Japan to conquer China and India, there is simply no realistic way the Japanese and Germans, even together, even had they conquered the rest of the allies, could have built enough forces, amassed enough supplies, or been able to support a campaign against a strong, industrial power 1000s of miles away across the oceans.  What looks good on T.V, HBO, or in military fiction often bears no reality to real military history.

117).  The German Army’s biggest defeat was not in Normandy, at Moscow, Stalingrad, or even Kursk but during Operation Bagration:  The Normandy Campaign, and the Battles of Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk are perhaps better known than Operation Bagration in 1944 but the latter operation was by far the worst defeat suffered by the German Army.  The allied victory in Normandy was impressive, led to the liberation of France, and bloodied the German Army but the numbers were never on par with those on the Eastern Front and the failure to close the Falaise Pocket quickly enough, and the weeks of indecisive attrition in June-July 1944 suggests it was not a model battle.  Moscow was a decisive battle which saved the Soviet Union in 1941 but the Soviets still took disproportionate losses, failed to encircle many German units, and did not retake significant amounts of territory.  Stalingrad was an impressive feat of Russian arms, encircled and reduced 22 Axis divisions, and pushed the Germans far back but a skilled counter-offensive near Kharkov in the spring of 1943 by Manstein ultimately stopped the Russian steamroller and temporarily returned the initiative back to Germany on the Eastern Front.  Kursk was Germany’s last major effort against Russia and was decisively beaten back but the Germans maintained a relatively coherent defense throughout the rest of 1943 and their Army Group Centre was not overwhelmed.

Meanwhile Bagration quickly overwhelmed the German Army, crushed Army Group Centre along with at least 30 divisions, and advanced all the way to Warsaw in two months.  This time the Germans did not hold the line, manage an orderly retreat or affect a decent counter-offensive.  Instead this successful offensive allowed the Russians to advance south and knock Romania and Bulgaria out of the war, and go North to convince Finland to make peace as well.  Any chance of the Germans holding back the Russians and avoiding defeat was lost in the summer of 1944 by this campaign and it remains the worst defeat suffered by German arms during the war.

118).  Most leaders of the major powers were replaced in the war except Chiang Kai-shek and Stalin:  Of the 8 major warring powers (Britain, France, Italy, Germany, America, Japan, Russia and China) only Russia and China saw a continuity in leadership throughout the conflict.  Britain’s war was not just Churchill’s as it was Neville Chamberlain who initially declared war over Germany while Churchill was voted out of office in mid-1945 and replaced by Clement Attlee who oversaw Japan’s defeat.  For France Daladier was replaced by Reynaud before France fell, while Petain took over occupied Vichy France and De Gaulle led the Free French forces who ultimately won the peace after 1945 (although few observers in 1940 would have bet on this).

Mussolini was in power until mid-1943 when he was imprisoned and while he led a northern Italian rump state after freed by German commandos it was obvious that the allied sponsored government in the south would win the conflict.  Hitler was close to being the only de-facto German leader of the war but with his suicide in late April, he passed on succession (via his will) not to expected successors like Goering and Himmler, both of whom abandoned Hitler at the last minute, but to Admiral Donitz, who resided over what remained of German forces which surrendered within a fortnight.

FDR, who enjoyed a nearly complete unprecedented 4 terms as President, died in mid-April 1945 just on the cusp of Germany’s defeat and was replaced by the feisty, honest, but temporarily overwhelmed Harry Truman who went on to become one of America’s best Presidents.  Japan, which ironically did not enjoy the iron-fisted or decisive leadership as would be assumed, went through several Prime Ministers from continuous war against China from 1937-1945, the most notable of which was Hideki Tojo, who reigned from late 1941 to mid-1944.  To complicate this further the Emperor was not some simple, or innocent, figurehead as he actively supported militarism, expansionism and showed little scruples regarding the terrible war crimes, and excesses, his forces inflicted under his reign.

Only Russia’s Stalin, with his brutal police state (far more expansive and efficient than even Germany or Japan) and China’s Chiang Kai-shek (who was an expert at political survival against insurmountable odds) managed to remain in charge throughout the whole war period, which is perhaps ironic considering Russia and China suffered the worse invasions, deaths and destruction of all countries in the war.

119).  There was a Korean man who had the poor luck of being continuously captured and conscripted into enemy armies across Asia and Europe:  In Antony Beevor’s masterpiece The Second World War we are quickly introduced to Yang Kyoungjongk, a Korean man who was captured and conscripted into what were probably the three most cruel armies in the world.  There is some suggestion that he did not exist but according to historians he was first conscripted by the Japanese (who controlled Korea at the time) to fight the Russians who captured him in 1939.  The Russians held him in a gulag for several years but eventually conscripted him into the Red Army in 1942 after severe manpower losses fighting Germany.

After fighting for the Red Army for a year he was captured by the Germans in 1943 who then conscripted him into the German Army which eventually sent him to Normandy in France.  Captured shortly after D-Day by the Americans he supposedly settled in America after the war.  Forgotten by many histories of the conflict he was the subject of the South Korean movie My Way in 2011 and is now sometimes used as an example of how ordinary people suffered unimaginable fates during a war which encompassed the whole planet.  What is seemingly forgotten in all of this is how lucky he must have been to survive serving in the Japanese, Russian and German armies, as well as the gulag system and the greatest amphibious assault of all time (D-Day).

120).  In Germanys 1942 summer offensive against Russia the Caucasus oil fields were the original target and Stalingrad was not even meant to have been captured:  Stalingrad is arguably the iconic battle of WW2 but this brutal urban battle, and supposed ultimate turning point of the conflict, was originally never suppose to have happened.  The German plan mid-1942 was to cover and contain (not occupy Stalingrad, let alone take the city block by block) while the main  German force was suppose to occupy the oil rich Caucasus oil fields in succession from Maykop, Grozny and Baku (the last on the shores of the Caspian Sea).  Yet inevitably Hitler, in one of his predictable strategic mood swings, decided half way through July that he could divide what were already weakened forces between Stalingrad and the Caucasus and eventually become seduced by taking the namesake city of Stalin instead of focusing on the very oil that kept Russia’s war effort alive.  It is very questionable if the Germans could have gotten to Baku but after Hitler’s interference with the campaign the chances were all but zero.

121).  Japans capture of Singapore was impressive but overrated:  The Fall of Singapore in 1942 is often seen as the culmination of British imperialistic hubris and the efficiency of Japanese arms.  Certainly British racism, hubris and complacency did much to lead to the neglect of Singapore’s defense, as well as the lackluster efforts to defend Malaya and Singapore, but according to most reasonable scholarship Singapore was far from being a formidable fortress (in fact the British expected it would likely fall).

Several studies, and analyses, made by local commanders as well as staffs in London at the time assumed that without decent air power and other strong forces that Singapore would fall, and considering Britain was fighting for her life against Germany and Italy in Europe it is hardly surprising that when Japan attacked that Malaya and Singapore had few real assets and second rate forces available in the Far East.  Given that the Japanese forces had superior naval forces, AirPower, and more experienced troops with better commanders it can hardly be claimed that the British had the advantage.

122).  Stalin could not really have helped the Polish Home Army uprising in 1944:  Considerable ink has been spilt accusing Stalin of purposely allowing the Polish Home Army being destroyed in 1944 in the lieu of the successes of Operation Bagration.  On the one hand Stalin had few incentives of supporting the uprising of a non-communist group that was generally hostile to him.  On the other hand the Western Allies were watching and Stalin had to at least acknowledge their interests and protests.  Yet despite Stalin’s potential reasons for not caring it should be noted  that realistically the Red Army had no decent chance of coming to the aid of the Polish Home Army at this point.

The Red Army had covered massive distances from Belorussia and Poland over forbidding terrain, as well as infrastructure that was either neutralized via scorched earth from the Germans or destroyed via combat.  Their casualties in manpower and equipment were also high; higher than the decisive losses they inflicted on the German Army in fact.  Most crucially the logistics were strained as their lines of communication were now stretched over 100s of miles whereas the German Army could support forces closer to home more effectively.  Clausewitz once described the “culminating point of the offensive” and without a doubt the Soviets had hit this by the time they neared Warsaw. 

It should also be noted that the Soviets had been preparing subsequent offensives towards Romania, Bulgaria and Finland and these were the priorities of Stalin and the Red Army Staff instead of Warsaw which was a city too far.  In the event the Western Allies pressured the Soviets to allow western aircraft to drop supplies to the Home Army but after most of the these were captured by the Germans the Soviets disallowed such attempts.  Again, although Stalin probably had little incentive to help Polish Home Army there were legitimate reasons why he could not have sent sufficient help even had he wanted to.  One thing that should be noted is that even HAD this occurred was it reasonable to expect that a poorly armed guerrilla force like the Home Army could have dominated Polish politics after the war, withstood Stalin who murdered millions, and prevented the Russians from absorbing Poland into the Soviet sphere?

123).  The capture of Moscow in 1941 could arguably have been decisive for Germany:  Given how widespread, and how many nations, were involved in the conflict it is hard to see how a single battle could have been decisive, or won the war, for the Germans.  However, had the Germans taken Moscow in 1941 it is at least plausible Germany could have won the won.  Unlike Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 Moscow was not only the Soviet’s political centre of gravity but also her logistical one.  Even today you can look at European Russian railways and Moscow is the hub.  Had the Russian’s lost Moscow it would have been hard to supply Leningrad in the North, maintain the struggle in central Russia, or hold onto southern Russia in Ukraine, or the Caucasus, given how decisive railway traffic was in the war and that the major railway point in Russia was Moscow.

Two more points are important.  The German Generals realized that the Russians would mass everything in 1941 to protect Moscow so to take the city would involve destroying the lion-share of what was left of the Russian Army in 1941. Secondly, Stalin was committed to staying, fighting, and if necessary dying, in Moscow so that if the Germans had taken it either Stalin would have died or been captured.  Stalin, whatever his cruelness, incompetence or genocidal death toll, was decisive for Russia’s war effort so had he been captured, killed or discredited, it is likely no one with enough power or prestige could have emerged to lead Russia to victory, especially if Moscow’s central logistical position been captured.

124).  The T-34 was overrated, especially after 1942:  Like the American Sherman tank the Russian T-34 was easy to mass produce, maintain and operate versus the more deadly but ultimately costly, cumbersome and relatively few German super tanks like Tigers and Panthers.  Certainly quantity beats quality if the better tanks cannot be produce a k/d (kill to death) ratio that is superior to the relevant rates at which your enemy can outproduce you in tanks, which admittedly the Russians and Americans did against Germany in the end.

Yet unlike the Shermans many historians and others have also suggested that the T-34 was not only an okay tank that could be mass produced but also a high quality fighting tank weapon for most of the war.  Statistics and combat simply did not bear this out.  In 1941, when admittedly the T-34 was superior to any German tank in German service, she was still destroyed in disproportionate numbers versus German tanks (4-5 knocked out for every German one).  Some of this was due to bad design flaws, some due to the poor training, communications and morale of the Red Army at the time, some due to the poor combined armies of the Red Army; and of course some due to the German Army which excelled in all of these areas in 1941. 

Which again illustrates that tanks on their own do not win wars, that the best tanks in the world cannot win battles on their own, and that tanks are just one instrument in a vast and complicated symphony of war.  In 1942, when the Germans T-34 was again superior to any German tank, and where you would expect that the Russians would have learned many lessons fighting the Germany Army, a better destruction ratio would be expected.  Yet her losses were 3-4 for every German tank.  Even in 1943-1944 the losses do not seem to have be better than 3-4 for every German loss.

One excuse for the latter years is that the Germans had super tanks like tigers and panthers but they had relatively few in service, and by 1943-44 the Red Army had vastly improved her efficiency, training, morale, communications and combined arms (all of which the Germans had used with a numerically inferior army in 1941-42 to inflict a disproportionate kill ratio on enemy tanks).  In the end the T-34 never accomplished (at the height of the Red Army effectiveness) a better ratio of being blown up 3 times for every time it blew up a German tank.

125).  The war killed as many as 50-60 or potentially even 70 million people:  Casualty estimates are always difficult given different (or incomplete or missing) sources and documentation, when historians consider the war began (1931, 1937, 1939, 1941), national biases, omissions, if all non-combat casualties are included, etc.  But it is acknowledged that at least 50 million people died in the war which makes WW2 the bloodiest war in history.  While casualty estimates again can be equivocal there are some notable figures: 

Russia lost the most people with 20-27 million.  China’s death toll is more debatable, with ranges between 10-20 million but perhaps the respected historian Rana Matter’s figure of 14 million can be considered a reasonable guess.  As noted earlier Poland’s at least 6 million war deaths by far represented the worst losses proportionate to any country’s population.  Perhaps 12 million died in the holocaust which was not only the murder of perhaps 6 million Jews but also millions of people from other groups ranging from Serbs, Russians, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally and physically handicapped people, free masons, Jehovah’s witnesses, etc. 

By contrast the Germans and Japanese did suffer significant losses but not as many as the previous nations (and certainly much less proportional civilian losses).  Despite the stereotype of German fastidiousness and record keeping the German death toll usually varies between 5-8 million deaths (mostly military but also significant civilian death tolls via strategic bombing, Russian atrocities, postwar ethnic cleansing, etc).  The Japanese death toll is usually never cited as above 3 million although disproportionate focus has been on American firebombing and nukes.

Italy, the often laughable Axis ally, suffered around half a millions deaths, which is also close to the death tolls of France and Britain (minus their empire or commonwealth forces).  It should be noted that although WW2 did begin an irreversible decline of Italian, French and British influence, and power, throughout the world but in WW1 all of these nations had significantly greater death tolls.  America lost around 400,000 dead which was much higher than the 100,000 or so lost in WW1 while Canada lost approximately 45,000 dead in WW2 versus at least 60,000 dead in WW1.  Besides this Asian, East European and Balkan nations suffered disproportionately and it is hard to calculate all death tolls, misery and suffering on a global scale.

It has always been tempting for historians and latter generations to label WW2 as The Good War, a conflict somehow more noble that Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or the countless wars since 1945 but this is nostalgic nonsense produced by the distance of time, the rise of media which has exposed the true horrors of war since 1945, and perhaps the foolish glorification of historians, and military enthusiasts, who have noted the decisive campaigns from 1939-1945 versus the often micromanaged, politically sensitive, and indecisive endings of wars ever since the event of nuclear weapons, TV, and the rise of populations who are neither nationalist, politically engaged or often adequately aware of the outside world. 

In reality this so called Good War saw more war crimes (allied or axis), torture, bombing and starvation of civilians, sadistic medical experimentation and genocide, and every other conceivable cruelty, betrayal and man’s inhumanity to man than any other conflict BEFORE OR SINCE!  This was often plotted, organized and carried out by cultured, educated and conscientious leaders and people not only in Germany and Japan but Russia, China, Italy, Britain, America and elsewhere.  If World War 2 has been labeled successfully as The Good War despite being the most cruel, bloody and inhumane period in human history what could possibly be called the Bad War?


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