WW2 Question

Alright, I know we have some WW2 buffs here - show me your stuff:

I was thinking this morning, and wondered why Hitler attacked Russia and what likely would have happened if he hadn’t.

CW (that I’ve heard/read) is that he thought Churchill was hanging out in hopes of Russian/US involvement, and by removing at least one of those, he’d subsequently persuade Britain to surrender/negotiate.

That seems a bit weak to me. Russia was at least nominally allied with/neutral towards Germany, and it seems Stalin would have been unlikely to get in the war unprovoked.

So what if Hitler had instead devoted German resources in 41-42 to increased production of U-Boats, strategic bombers and the like for deployment against Britain? Would Russia have stayed out? Was there any possibility of bombing/U-boating Britain into submission?

And, on a similar note, did Japan really have to attack the US, and what would have happened if they hadn’t? Would FDR have been able to declare war without a Pearl Harbor type event (ala WW1)?

I think, in both cases, the answer is pretty much the same - the aggressor was a smaller, less industrially productive nation facing a much larger, ideologically hostile but militarily unprepared nation that would likely be a competitor for influence in the chosen theater. Both believed a war was inevitable, and decided the best course was to try and deliver a knockout blow before the massive production capacity of the enemy was fully geared up.

They may have been wrong in that belief. Hitler probably would have been better served consolidating his European gains and attempting to make or force peace with the allies, but a war with the Soviets was probably in the cards. I don’t think the US would have stayed out of the war forever, but had the Japanese let the sleeping giant lie the US may have not focused much attention on them. I could picture a V-E day followed by a negotiated peace with the Japanese.

Not really a specialist but I think the explanations are wrt Russia:

  1. He was insane.

  2. He wanted oil.

  3. See 1 again.

  4. Figured that fake communism was not exactly compatible with nazism, would have to fight them eventually anyway, might as well do it before they had a million tanks. So it’s bad timing and another front, what the heck, it’s not like France was a problem, and Rommel is doing fine in North Africa, but oh wait, no he’s not, how many damn tanks do the English have anyway… so much for the third reich.

Yeah, I should probably have mentioned the megalomania of Hitler as well. :-)

Of course Japan didn’t have to attack the US if they didn’t mind remaining an isolated island nation, but they did if they wanted to dominate the Pacific, which was their whole starting plan.

Unless their local forces were destroyed, the US (and Britain too) would have squelched Japan’s strategic ambition to control the region as well as their tactical aim of finally coming up with some oil of their own, and the whole co-prosperity sphere thing would never have gotten off the ground without a war. Even assuming the Philippines, Singapore, and other US and British possessions and areas of influence in the Pacific rim were scrupulously left untouched, the western nations would have exerted their power to prevent Japan from gaining the power and economic control their desired in the region.

However, again the Japanese were essentially insane. As Yamamoto and some other loyal but not delusional military and diplomatic types tried to explain, the US could never back down and agree to peace after “treachery” and military humiliation. Tojo’s people just assumed apparently that the US would “face reality” without actually understanding what reality was. They also apparently just didn’t comprehend the scale of US resources.

I suppose that they were also smarting under the humiliation of constantly suffering diplomatic insults from the racist west, who up until D-Day thought of the Japanese as more quaint than anything else. Then too maybe the US held a special place in their hearts due to Perry and the Black Ships.

We’ve all played it out before - if we were the leader of Germany (only not insane and a murderer) - could we pull it off? Could we “win”?

The answer, generally, is yes. Which is what makes WW2 so interesting in my opinion. If Hitler wasn’t crazy, if he listened to his generals… he might have been able to win. By “win” I mean Moscow, UK, and Northern Afrika.

Part of the reason Hitler disregarded his generals from '41 on is that his generals and advisors were mostly wrong (and he was right) from '36 - '40. IIRC, they kept predicting the West would react (first march into Saar? in '36, Austria, Czechoslavokia, etc), and then, IIRC, they didn’t like the plan for the invasion of France, which of course turned out to be a brilliant military success.

There were so many apparent crises and tipping points in WW II on both sides that it almost seems silly at times.

For example, the very first major British operation in North Africa (before Crusader, forget what it was called) should have swept all axis forces aside as it had massive force, fuel, time, and space advantages, it was only vast and amazing incompetence combined with Rommel’s tactical skills that caused the operation to fail. Then later on Rommel and the Italians (they did have a few elite units who weren’t incompetent in Africa) came pretty damn close to finishing the British off, which would have allowed more force in Russia not to mention securing some important oil fields. Operations in Russia were similarly chaotic, with absurd successes and ludicrous failures of such huge magnitude on both sides that in retrospect there were many decisions which would have utterly changed the course of the war. Guderian’s memoirs are both frightening and pathetic, even granting that his recounting was biased.

Similarly, the French were idiots to lose to the then-feeble blitzkrieg in the first place, and better German strategy in the Battle of Britain might have had the desired effect for Germany very early on.

On the Grand-strategic level, Italy’s alignment with Germany was really essential to the German ability to wage war, and it wouldn’t have been that hard to either prevent Mussolini from coming to power, or to sway him into neutrality. And of course if anyone had listened to Churchill during the Chamberlain period, Britain would have been better prepared, and Germany might not have dared their first continental actions.

I remember reading a long time ago that some operation in the Balkans in '41 basically took just long enough that the delay to the start of Barbarossa condemned it to failure; thus this seemingly minor operation actually swung the whole thing. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

After Italy declared war on Greece, Germany had to intervene to help them win or the British would have been able to move in. To get to Greece easily the Germans conquered Yugoslavia. Hitler didn`t want to do that, and was furious with Mussolini.

Actually, I believe Yugoslavia was more complex. There were two internal factions struggling for political power - one that was friendly towards Hitler and one opposed. In Spring '41, the latter gained control, and Hitler didn’t like that, so he invaded to put the more friendly regime in power.

I’m not sure I buy the argument that Barbarossa launched 2-3 weeks earlier would have turned the tide. So the Germans get 50-100 miles further into Russia. Even if Moscow falls, I’m not sure the Russians surrender. They lost Moscow to Napolean and still won THAT war…

Just play Axis and Allies, you’ll have your answer!

The answer to the "Why did Japan attack the US/Pearl Harbor is fairly straightforward. We had economic sanctions and embargos (particular oil) against them ever since they invaded mainland China. They wanted to escalate the war and take over the Pacific Rim, and the US Navy was an impediment. Crippling our Pacific fleet was a (militarily) necessary step towards this end. I’ve read several books that have argued that if the year would have gone on a bit longer (say, 2 more years), Japan was seriously hoping for a tactical peace treaty between US. If we had to invade mainland Japan (without the A-Bomb) they were going to make it so painful and cause so many casualties that they were hoping for a peace treaty (our surrender was never their intention).

As for Hitler, that one’s a bit more messy. In general it’s because he/Germany wanted to protect their eastern front and didn’t like Communism and the might of Stalin’s infantry. Many have argued that Hitler just severely underestimated Russia’s ability to sacrifice troops to the meatgrinder and fight a prolonged war. Remember that if Hitler had completely controlled Russia’s oil supply, things might have gone the other way. Hitler really wanted a propoganga war however, and the drive to Moscow during terrible winter conditions really killed off the eastern front.

In general, the answer is of course meglomania on the part of both Axis powers.

As snowmyr said, the Yugoslavia campaign. There are some writers who think it mattered, others who say the mud on the Russian Front would have been so bad a few weeks earlier that nothing would have been gained. Who knows?

Yup, Hitler was in favor of pushing armor through the Ardennes, which was THE critical strategic decision in the first years of the war. He’s hard to evaluate militarily–flashes of genius, flashes of idiocy. “Insanity” seems to fit him pretty much across the board.

I was under the impression one of the reasons Japan started their attacks was due to oil shortages?

Hitler wanted the oil and if he could rid himself of bolchevism, well, thats a bonus as well.

Oil = Fuels our wars & the machines that fight them. :-)

The Japanese reference point was the 1904-05 war against the Russians, in which the Japanese destroyed the Russian fleets and even though the Japanese presumably had no plans for land conquest of Russia, they forced the Russians to negotiate and presumably accede to Japanese demands.

But it was a poor anology for Japan, as the U.S. was far more equipped for naval warfare than Russia, and far more concerned about the Pacific. And also, the U.S. wasn’t used to negotiated ‘losses’ in wars (at that point, anyways), whereas Russia has gone that route many times over the years.

  1. The 3rd reich needed the resources
  2. The Soviets were desperate, and would have attacked if the Nazis went after England. They’d been begging for allies for a long time, and the whole point of their “treaty” with the Nazis was to get them to attack another power, thereby forcing the target into defacto alliance.
  3. Conquering England didn’t really net the Nazis all that much.
  4. Knocking the Soviets out probably meant absolute Nazi victory in Eurasia+Africa.
  5. The whole Nazi movement was largely built on anti-communism.
  6. The Nazis very nearly won as it was, let alone if they’d gotten an earlier start and the weather hadn’t been as bad.
  7. The Soviets put up a better fight than most expected – far better than anyone else the Nazis had faced.

It was a risky gambit, but probably the strongest way the Nazis could play their hand. Only in hindsight does it look like a doomed effort and mistake. The whole “they should have conquered Africa!” angle only looks like a good idea to those who’ve played a bit too much Axis and Allies.

On Japan. The US had passively aggresively manipulated things so that Imperial Japan was short on oil (I think some other things too), such that they felt that if they sat still and did nothing they were doomed. The US was warned IIRC more than a year in advance by it’s own ambassador that an attack was coming. The US very much wanted Japan to strike the first blow and (sucessfully) did it’s best in manipulating Japan into doing so and providing cassus belli, although there was enough racism I doubt anyone expected anything as striking as Pearl Harbor.

Ooooh, ooooh, this brings up my favorite question (yes, I know the answer, but I like to ask it anyway):

If the Allies entered the war for the ideologically pure reason of stopping nationalist aggression, in particular the invasion of Poland, why did they declare war only on Germany and not on the Soviet Union as well?

The Soviet Union was an Allied power. Are you asking why they didn’t declare war on themselves?

Which leads me to ask just why in the hell did the French succumb so quickly when they had the firepower to keep the Germans in their place. WW2OL taught me (giggles) French tanks were slow but heavily armored and would’ve had no trouble knocking out early war Panzers who had spit wad guns and paper thin armor.

Because nobody has ever entered into a war for an “ideologically pure” reason?