WORLD WAR II

How did the Allied Coalition overcome the Axis Powers?

1. The American industrial base was far too strong to be counteracted by the Axis. The industrial capacity of Germany Italy and Japan never could match the US. Surely the Japanese could never imagine they could equal the US and could only hope for a negotiated settlement from the very beginning. Admiral Yamamoto, architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, knew this. In 1939, the Nazis were not on full war footing. Hitler had thought in terms of going to war by 1943, war production did not peaked until 1944, and after the defeat of France in June of 1940, the Wehrmacht (German Army) was discharging soldiers. This was clearly the mark of a military planning on a limited war.

Once the allies determined that they would accept only "unconditional surrender" and would pursue the war in they way they did, that is total war, the Axis forces had no chance. On top of this, the Allies had a bigger manpower pool to choose from, and the US was never taxed to go to full manpower mobilization. Only one in six of the male population served in the US military, and of the 36 million men registered by the Selective Service, only 10 million were inducted. This allowed the American industry base to produce the amount of equipment and food that it did to prosecute the war. This US not only greatly expanded its war making capacity after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US supplied virtually all of its allies needs.

2. As the winds of war blew in the late 1930's, the US, led by FDR, began preparations for war. The US military readiness of today was not the norm in pre WWII peacetime. Yet we began development of weapons such as the B-17, we began the first peacetime draft (1940), and we were shipping weapons and other equipment to the forces fighting the Axis (Lend Lease; Cash and Carry, trade of 50 overage destroyers to Britain, for example). This enabled the US to enter into the war and influence events on the battlefield far more rapidly than if the opposite were the case. There is no way that the US could have helped stem the Axis tide in 1942 had not pre-war preparations taken place.

3. The Allies had a much stronger coalition than the Axis. Italy failed to enter WWII in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland but chose instead to join the war when they could feast on a broken France in 1940. The Italians never enjoyed much battlefield strategic success, and the Germans had to bail them out in Greece and North Africa which frittered away valuable assets, especially as the Nazis prepared for the invasion of Russia in 1941. The war that the Germans and Japanese fought against the allies was never coordinated in any sense. The Japanese would never even go to war with the Soviets since the two had a non-aggression pact. Such an attack in 1941 could have been devastating to the Soviets. Meanwhile, Hitler surely made his biggest mistake when he declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor, thus allowing the US to follow the "Germany First" strategy. On the other hand, though the Soviets did not go to war with the Japanese until August of 1945, this did not impair the allied war effort since the Allies had gone with the "Germany First" strategy from the very beginning. Considering the intensity of the German attack against the Soviets, the Allies could not have expected the USSR to do anything but fight the Nazis full time. The demand for "Unconditional Surrender" has been a point of discussion for the historians for some time, with the argument being that the Axis kept fighting with the ferocity they did because they had no other choice but to keep fighting. The Allies had to maintain their coalition to achieve victory especially in light of the departure of Russia in 1917 from the First World War. There was no way for any coalition member to seek separate negotiated settlement with the Axis. This would have given the Axis the upper hand for final success. The conferences at Teheran and Yalta allowed the allied leadership to discuss and address their concerns with each other's performance and bring about a successful conclusion to the war.

4. The Axis victories were built around surprise and quality, the Allies around quantity and a soon-to-be-developed quality. Why had the Axis powers been so successfully in the early years of the war? The used their qualitative advantages alongside achievement of surprise. For example: the Germans had destroyed France with their Ardennes attack, the Nazis attacked the Soviets in full violation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; "Blitzkrieg" warfare won out against enemies still fighting with World War I tactics; the Japanese launched a sneak attack at Pearl Harbor; and, the impressive Japanese offensive of 1941-42 advanced against armies with larger bodies of soldiers.

Because the Allies had no intention of accepting any sort of negotiated settlement, the Axis qualitative advantages would surely dissipate as they did. It did not take long as the turning point battles of Midway (June 42), El Alamein (Aug-Oct 42), and Stalingrad (Nov 42-Feb 43) all but insured that the Allies could not lose the war. From that moment forward, the Axis powers never were able to return to the strategic offensive, essential to winning a military victory. The only Axis hope lay in a negotiated settlement, as they probably hoped for in 1939-1941, but this was no longer an option. By the end of 1943, the Allies were sure they would defeat the Axis powers. The Italians had dropped out of the war, the Russians had begun to destroy the striking power of the Wehrmacht, and the US had begun to effect the making of a strategy, the island-hopping campaign, that would bring an end to the Japanese Empire. Once the force that was built around quality lost the opportunity of an early victory, the force based around quantity was surely headed to victory. Unfortunately at the end of 1943, the war still had to be played out.

5. The Allied coalition adapted to the changing demands of the war faster than the Axis powers. The Allies knew that in order to invade Europe, the sea lanes had to be secured, or no troops, equipment or food would safely transit to the war zone. The Allies knew that the war had to be taken to the heart of the enemy as soon as possible, in the form of the strategic bombing campaign. The Allies knew that doctrine would evolve as the war progressed and as the troops were trained and tested for combat. Thus what might have been claimed to be a periphery war in 1942-43, Africa and Italy, had to be fought before D-Day could be launched in June of 1944. The experiences of Operation Torch, Dieppe, Kasserine Pass, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio demonstrated a learning curve for the allied cause. Had a cross channel invasion taken place in 1942, its chances for success would have been far less than in 1944, and the results far more catastrophic, for by 1944 the allies had victory in their sight. That was not the case in 1942. By 1944, even if German war production was just then peaking in spite of the vicious air war, the Luftwaffe had left the battlefield and was forced to defend the skies over Germany. Over the battlefield itself, from D-Day forward, allied aircraft enjoyed air superiority over the Luftwaffe. This is the very strength the Blitzkrieg itself had shown in its drive to conquer Europe. In the Pacific, the island-hopping campaign allowed the US to bypass Japanese garrisons defending remote islands and render them useless as part of the Japanese defense perimeter. At the same time the US put a submarine fleet into the western Pacific in far greater strength than the German U-Boat threat around England, and choked off the ability of Japan to feed, arm and defend itself. By 1944, when Tinian Island was captured, the Japanese home islands began to receive the same strategic bombing campaign that the Germans had undergone. The results would be forthcoming in 1945. The AThousand-Year Reich@ and the AGreater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere@ were all but dead, but unfortunately thousands more casualties lay ahead in the great battles of the Bulge, around Berlin, and on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The Course of the War

As the Winds of War blew in the late 1930's and when war began in Europe in September of 1939, FDR had placed himself firmly behind the anti-Axis forces. Faced with a reelection bid in 1940 and with American Isolationism, the president had to move slowly, but the United States had already began the preparations for war which would enable this country to react as swiftly as it did for war after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Without these preparations the quick response to stem the Axis powers on our part would never had occurred. The research and development of the strategic bombing force and faster battleships and aircraft carriers were and remain projects that take years of development, and to have delayed such preparation until after the attack on Pearl Harbor would have allowed for even greater Axis advances in 1942 than were actually achieved.

In addition to this preparation, FDR and Churchill's advisors had unofficially agreed to a "Germany First" strategy before Pearl Harbor. This in turn became the strategy on December 11, 1941, when Hitler thoughtlessly declared war on the US. Though the US Navy had been badly hurt by the Japanese in the first days of the war, not only at Pearl but in the Philippines, the situation in Europe was far more desperate. The Nazis had captured most of continental Europe, including France, Britain had undergone the most savage air bombardment and was in real threat of starving from the German U-Boat threat, a Nazi/Italian army was threatening the British lifeline through the Suez Canal, and the Nazi army was at the gates of Moscow and Leningrad. The Soviet Union seemed destined to surrender. Thanks to the American industrial capacity, this country was able not only to quickly field a formidable army and navy, but was able to provide virtually all of the assets that both Britain and the Soviet Union needed to combat the Nazis. The US was in the position to continue to act as the "Arsenal of Democracy" while entering the war as a major combatant. Again, unfortunately, losses had to be accepted for the time being until the allied effort was able to fully ramp up for war.

1942

The Axis powers were able to continue their advances on all fronts in 1942. The Nazis pushed further into Russia, heading towards the Volga River and Stalingrad and the oil fields in the Caucasus. Erwin Rommel=s Afrika Korps moved to within 60 miles of the Suez Canal. The Japanese followed Pearl Harbor by capturing in rapid succession the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies. They continued to push deeper into China. Australia seemed next to fall. Yet by the end of 1942, the tide had been turned and it seemed that an Axis victory had been avoided. Four great battles stand out among the many fought. The Japanese push towards Australia had ground down at Guadalcanal. The main Japanese carrier strike fleet had been destroyed at Midway. Bernard Montgomery defeated Rommel at El Alamein and protected Suez. Dwight Eisenhower landed American troops in North Africa. The Nazi 6th Army was surrounded at Stalingrad and surrendered in February of 1943.

1943

Having stemmed the tide, 1943 proved even more important to the allied cause. Strain started to show on the allied side. In North Africa, the US learned a hard lesson at the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Our troops were green. Our equipment was inferior to the Nazis. Our doctrine was incomplete. Our military leaders were questioned. Only in logistics and in artillery did we have an advantage. One of the great questions during the war was the discussion about when to invade Europe proper. Churchill pushed to delay the great invasion, and favored periphery battles in the Mediterranean. He politely stated that the US military was not prepared to conduct the major amphibious operation of the war. The American military leadership announced their readiness to invade Europe as soon as possible. Kasserine Pass proves, at least to me, that launching D-Day in 1942 or 43 would have been a huge mistake. A learning curve was necessary, and the US found that curve in North Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. But the Allies were able to take the war to Germany with a tremendous strategic bombing campaign. Though German war production did not peak until 1944, the round the clock bombing badly hurt German transport capability and forced the Luftwaffe into protecting the homeland instead of protecting the Wehrmacht. This would prove important when D-Day took place. By the end of 1943, it was clear that if the allied coalition remained united, the war was won. Unfortunately, the offensive steps that would end the war still had to take place, and the fighting of 1944-45 was as desperate as the war had ever seen.

1944

The American Pacific island hopping campaign begun in 1943 took up in earnest in 1944 on two fronts. MacArthur began his push back to the Philippines from Australia, while Nimitz headed west from the Central Pacific in the Gilberts, Marshalls, Marianas, and Carolines. Once the US captured Saipan and Tinian Islands in Mid 44, the Japanese home islands came under a strategic bombing campaign. The American submarine fleet moved into the Western Pacific and took a deadly toll on the Japanese merchant fleet. The Imperial Japanese Navy died a slow death at the hands of Nimitz's forces and the Japanese Army was often left to die on the vine as the American campaign isolated many Jap held islands. The control of the high seas by the USN made those garrisons useless. In October of 1944, MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return to the Philippines.

In Europe, though the Italian campaign stalled out south of Rome, The Soviets had broken the back of the Wehrmacht in Russia and began the inexorable march towards Berlin. On June 6, 1944, the great allied invasion of Normandy was successfully launched. Once lodgment was insured, a buildup followed, and the allies broke out in July and dashed for the German border. The Germans finally stiffened at the border and began a vicious war of attrition, highlighted by the December German Ardennes Offensive, the famous Battle of the Bulge. Other than this aberration, the weight of the allied offensive broke the back of the Wehrmacht. 1945 surely would be the end for the Nazis.

1945

The Nazis fought to the bitter end. As the Americans and British crossed the Rhine River, as the Russians surrounded Berlin, and the bombing campaign at its fullest, Germany refused to surrender. Hitler remained in his Berlin bunker unwilling to see the obvious. A raving lunatic till the end, he blamed the German people for their weaknesses as the cause for defeat, and committed suicide. The Thousand Year Reich proclaimed in 1933 came to an early end when the Nazis accepted unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945.

By 1945 the Japanese too had lost all hope for victory. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was finished. Yet they fought even fiercer than they ever had. Each island that had been taken in the past had Japanese garrisons that fought to the last man. The Japanese seemed somehow to perfect these losing tactics to raise the level of American casualties on each island. It seemed that nothing could be more frightening than the cave fight that took place on Pelelieu. But now the Japanese took on Kamikaze air attacks that were without hope of success, but took a great toll on American ships and crews. The Japanese Navy took on the same mentality (the Yamato) and conducted suicidal attacks against the USN that usually ended with sinkings resulting from US air attacks. MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines lasted until the end of the war, as Japanese garrisons had to be rooted out of the Filipino mountains. Even after the Japanese commander, Yamashita, declared Manila an open city, his troops mutinied and fought on. 10,000 Americans died trying to clear the city, 100,000 Japanese soldiers died and 100,000 Filipino civilians died. The last two islands enroute to Japan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were the scenes of the bitterest fighting of the war. On March 9, American bombers, using incendiary devices burned 25% of Tokyo to the ground and probably killed 85,000 civilians. Considering the casualty figures already rung up, there probably were no ethical issues left at that point. The only act left to play out was the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.

POWER POINT PRESENTATION: The Nazis (Best to view in Internet Explorer 4.X or higher)
 

Blitzkreig (Lightning Warfare) - German military tactics used World War II to overwhelm their enemies, using infantry, armor and, aircraft in conjunction with each other.
Luftwaffe - German Air Force, commanded by Hermann Goering.
Wehrmacht - German Army in World War II.
Holocaust - Nazi war against the Jews, to eliminate them completely.  Auschwitz - most notorious Death Camp for Jews, located in Poland.  Dachau - Jewish work camp, located near Munich, Germany.  More than 6 million Jews went to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis (referred to as the 'Final Solution' by the Nazis)
Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt - two of the most recognizable Nazi generals in WWII.
Bernard Law Montgomery - most recognizable British Field Marshal of WWII, defeated Rommel at turning point battle of El Alamein in Egypt, October, 1942; later commander of British 21st Army Group, from Normandy invasion until V-E Day, under Dwight Eisenhower
D-Day - June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Normandy (also known as Operation Overlord), commanded by Dwight Eisenhower
Island Hopping - American strategy in Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) to reach Japan, via naval control of the Pacific Ocean and bypassing many islands controlled by Japanese garrisons.
Battle of Midway Island - The turning point battle in the Pacific Ocean; American victory over Japanese fleet, June 4, 1942, which gave control of Pacific to the US Navy for the balance of the war inn the Far East.
Stalingrad - Turning point battle on Russian front, where German Sixth Army was surrounded in November, 1942, and later forced to surrender, February, 1943.
Battle of Britain - In 1940, unable to invade Britain because of the the naval supremacy of the Royal Navy, the Nazis decided to conduct an air bombing campaign of the British Isles, in hopes of ending the war in Western Europe.
Terror Bombing - Because of heavy losses of aircraft during the Battle of Britain, the German air force shifted its bombing effort from military targets to centers of population, such as London, Southampton and Coventry, at night, in an attempt to terrorize the civilian population to the point citizens would demand from the British government a negotiated settlement of the war on terms favorable to the Nazis.  In retaliation, the Royal Air Force would later do the same to German cities.  Later in the war (1944) the Nazis developed unguided V-1 and V-2 rockets, which were launched against Britain without regard for heavily populated areas.
The Third Reich - the third German Empire, 1933-1945, Nazi Germany, which Hitler hoped would be the 'thousand year Reich.'
The Axis Powers - the coalition of Germany, Italy and Japan during WWII.
The Allies - the nations allied with the USA during WWII, most prominently Great Britain, to include its empire supporters (Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and India), the Soviet Union, France, and China.

RMS TO KNOW

Unconditional Surrender    AGermany first@     Blitzkrieg     Island Hopping  Iwo Jima and Okinawa     Wehrmacht/Luftwaffe      D-Day-Normandy    Pearl Harbor        Third Reich     Turning point battles - Midway Island, Stalingrad, El Alamein  Eisenhower     Patton     Montgomery    Bradley      MacArthur   Nimitz    Yammamoto    Rommel   von Rundstedt    Holocaust    Auschwitz    Dachau   Battle of Britain   Terror Bombing    V-1/V-2 rocket     Atomic Bomb   Hiroshima   Nagasaki  

RECOMMENDED READINGS

A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War.

Winston Churchill, The Second World War, six volumes.

Stephen Ambrose, D-Day.

Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich.

John Toland, Adolf Hitler, two volumes.

French L. Maclean, The Cruel Hunters.

H.R. Trevor Roper, The Last Days of Hitler.

Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day.

Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far.

George S. Patton, War As I Knew It.

Basil Liddell-Hart, The German Generals Talk.

William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.