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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PAST TWO HUNDRED YEARS

by Raymond F. Betts


CHAPTER TWELVE
Another World War

Almost all of us leaders of the National Socialist movement were actual combatants. I have yet to meet the combatant who desires a renewal of the horrors of those four and a half years.

ADOLF HITLER
October 19, 1933

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Nazi propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, ordered that no newspaper use the term "war" to describe what was happening. In a few days this rhetorical effort at avoidance of a new reality was abandoned. Great Britain and France were once again Germany's military foes. The term "war" would henceforth dominate not only Germany's but also the world's news until 1945.

The Second World War was in reality the first world war, with battle fronts on several continents. First, there was the European military scene in which the Nazi Wehrmacht initially met with spectacular success. After the defeat of Poland in September, the Germans invaded Norway and Denmark in March of 1940, and then only did they turn their attention to the West. There, after nine months of inactivity often described as the "phony war," the German forces moved suddenly and quickly. The attack began on May 10, 1940, with Belgium and Holland overrun and a deeply invaded France suing for peace on June 16, 1940. In six weeks Hitler had mastered the Continent. Only Great Britain still stood apart. Although Hitler spoke of peace terms, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, echoed his countrymen's sentiments when he stated that the war would go on. And so it did, but now away from Western Europe.

Following a military excursion into the Balkans to extricate Italian forces bogged down in a campaign against Greece, the Nazis seemed to set upon a geographical course previously prescribed by Napoleon. In February 1941 they landed light forces in North Africa, again to assist the Italians. The desert war which ensued for the next year and a half turned out to be a series of dramatic tank battles between Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Rommel, the one outstanding Nazi general who did not behave in the traditional Prussian manner, was selected by Goebbels to be a hero. He was so treated in the German press, and even Winston Churchill respected his military genius and dash. Had Hitler poured more men and equipment into the intensifying North African campaign, Rommel might have been able to conquer Egypt, as had Napoleon before him. But Montgomery gained the initiative in the summer of 1942, and the Germans were routed. The fact was Hitler's major military effort was found elsewhere.

Again, in Napoleonic fashion, Hitler unleashed a mammoth invasion against Russia on June 22, 1941. The largest army the world had yet known was amassed for this gargantuan enterprise. Some 3 million German troops moved across the spatial immensity of Russia by operating on a two thousand-mile-long front. Again the Wehrmacht met with initial success. In the autumn of 1942, General Friedrich Paulus, commander of the German Sixth Army that was moving against Stalingrad in the East, informed Hitler that the city would fall by the tenth of November. A few months later this same German army was being ground down, a distance of feet from its objective.

The Battle of Stalingrad was the decisive turning point in the war in Europe. It reached its dreadful conclusion on February 2, 1943, when Paulus, who had been promoted to Field Marshal only a few days before, was taken prisoner along with his army. The extended Nazi supply lines, the ancient Russian ally, "General Winter," and the incredible determination of the Russian people held the Nazis at bay and then pushed them back.

Never again was the Wehrmacht able to regain the offensive in any enduring manner. The war had turned against Germany. For the remaining two years, the formerly expansive Third Reich was being converted into Festung Europa (Fortress Europe) which Hitler could only defend. As the Russians relentlessly pushed westward against the German armies, the Allied forces, chiefly made up of British and American troops, invaded Italy on July 10, 1943. (French North Africa had been previously invaded by an Anglo- American force in November 1942.) And then, in the most daring and extensive naval landing in history, the Allies attacked Western Europe in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Many high German officials despaired of a successful outcome of the war after the Battle of Stalingrad. However, by the autumn of 1944, all hope was lost, and the German nation had taken on a siege mentality, its population suffering severe deprivations, enduring constantly increasing air raids, and awaiting inevitable defeat.

With the new year, 1945, the New Order was in a final state of chaos. On April 21, Soviet tank forces reached the outskirts of Berlin, unwelcome news that caused Hitler to rant violently in the rooms of his bunker, located underground next to the Reich Chancellery. But his words were no longer of avail. There were few people who could hear him. On April 29, 1945, as the Russians were occupying the heart of Berlin, Hitler put a pistol in his mouth and committed suicide. The Third Reich ended as sordidly as it had begun.

A " More Total War"
Even a brief resume of the military facts of the war suggests its enormity in numbers of soldiers involved and in geographical area covered. But such figures do not tell much about the social implications of the war. This, indeed, was a total war, sparing no class, no age group, and few nations in Europe. The devastation exceeded anything previously imaginable.

The raw statistics are deplorable. The Soviet Union estimated a loss of some 20 million people. Some 6 million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis. More than 30 million Europeans were moved from their established residences as the result of Nazi policy or of war exigencies. The air raids, adding a new apocalyptic dimension to war, indiscriminately destroyed the civilian world centered in the cities. The Germans destroyed Rotterdam and Coventry in the early days of the war. And later the Allies effected similar results on a large number of German cities. The fire-bombing of Hamburg, undertaken by the British on December 1, 1943, was described by that city's police-president in dire terms:

The scenes of terror which took place in the firestorm are indescribable. Children were torn away from their parents' hands by the force of the hurricane and whirled into the fire. People who thought they had escaped fell down, overcome by the devouring force of the heat and died in an instant.
The war was fought ferociously on both sides. It was truly a total war. But it had not begun as such.

In 1939 neither the Germans nor their enemies, the British and the French, had organized their nations for the sort of warfare that came to characterize World War I. In part the German attitude derived from military planning: the waging of "Blitzkrieg", or lightning warfare, that would be quickly won by combined air and land operations. The mobility of the tank gave to strategy a quick and offensive authority. In part, the English and French attitudes derived from peacetime thinking and a "Depression mentality" that still calculated in terms of balanced budgets and controlled expenditures. Both sides were once again unprepared for a war of endurance.

Although the war itself enlarged enormously as a military undertaking, its striking configurations were of an economic order. Eventually, every nation was geared to a wartime economy. More than World War I, this one became a grand industrial duel, in which organizational techniques, scientific developments, and mobilization of resources made the state all powerful. England soon had a special Minister of Economic Warfare, and by early 1942 the Germans assigned wartime production to the Ministry of Armaments and Production, thus subsuming much military planning under a civilian ministry.

Furthermore, for a span of three years--from the defeat of France to June of 1940 until the invasion of Italy in July of 1943--the war in the West was of a new complexion: an aerial attack on the domestic front. When Hitler found he could not negotiate a peace with the English, he allowed Herman Goring, head of the Luftwaffe, to begin his "Eagle Attack" on the British homeland. Thus began the Battle of Britain, a battle which nightly provided a scene of German bombers unleashing death from the sky and which daily offered a scene of determined Britons cleaning up rubble and adjusting to wartime hardships. Between these two activities the Royal Air Force undertook the defense of English skies, a task done with skill, heroism, and success. The R.A.F.'s role in the Battle of Britain marked the heroic moment of Britain's "Darkest Hour"--to borrow Winston Churchill's phrase.

After 1940 the zone of aerial combat shifted to the Continent. Germany's European war in a way now became a two-front war: the military activity in Russia waged in a rather traditional, continental manner; the war of the air, now a defensive operation, the chief objective of which was to minimize the damage done by British and American bombing runs.

In the late spring of 1942 the British Bomber Command began its "saturation" bombing of Germany. The strategic philosophy that now came to prevail is summed up in a joint statement of the Chiefs of Staff on American-British Strategy, written on December 31, 1942:

The aim of the bomber offensive is the progressive destruction and dislocation of the enemy's war industrial and economic system, and the undermining of his morale to a point where his capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.
And yet, despite the ever-increasing and destructive bombing, the Germans fought on.

That Germany was able to maintain the industrial capacity for continuing the war is largely attributable to the advent of a managerial phase in the operation of the war. After the disastrous Battle of Stalingrad, the nation was organized on a total war basis, with the Ministry of Armaments and Production assuming a dominant position in wartime industrial management. As incredible as it may seem, this was a major deviation from earlier policy. With the initial success of his war efforts in Russia in the summer and autumn of 1941, Hitler anticipated victory and therefore cut back armament production, while Berlin briefly took on the appearance of a peacetime city, with restaurants and luxury shops doing a bustling business. But Stalingrad created a new national mood. Goebbels made a major speech on February 18, 1943, that signaled the change. "Stalingrad is the voice of Fate sounding the alarm," he cried. And then he offered a brief list of rhetorical questions, the most important of which was this: "Do you want war, if need be, even more total and more radical than any we can imagine today?"

Although the crowd cheered him, the German people were in fact forced to accept "more total war." The destruction of their homeland was to become the most obvious and awesome aspect of that form of warfare, but the management of the nation's industrial system was another aspect. Under the leadership of Albert Speer, now minister of armaments and production, German industrial output was rationalized and reworked. Bombed factories were reassembled, with efficiency of effort as important an objective as any. Both bomber and fighter plane production rose as Allied bombs fell. When the war ended, the Germans had a more impressive air fleet than when the war began: 6,638 planes in 1945 as against 4,161 in 1939. What they lacked were the men and the fuel to make the planes fly.

To understand the German war effort, one must remember that it was European-wide in scope and influence. Slave labor from the East, notably from Poland, and forced labor from the West, particularly from France, helped compensate for the manpower shortage caused by the millions of troops fighting on the several fronts. During the brief era of German domination of Europe, one of the most striking demographic developments was that of population displacement. Millions of foreign workers were forced to serve the Germans; millions of Jews were herded into concentration camps where they were exterminated with a dispassionate cruelty that starkly illuminated the inhumanity of the Nazi regime. And, of course, the massive bombing caused the forced relocation of many millions of Germans. In April 1944, over one million citizens left Berlin as it became the object of intensive air raids.

The situation in the civilian sector of the two major Western Allies, Great Britain and the United States, was striking by contrast. After a slow beginning, Great Britain organized its society for total war with greater efficiency and intensity than any other nation—save the Soviet Union. Most significantly, scientific personnel joined the generals in war planning. Indeed, it was Churchill's scientific adviser, Lord Cherwell, a physicist, who was the most forceful proponent of strategic bombing. Moreover, the wartime leadership, unlike the Nazi, genuinely encouraged scientific development. The British breakthrough with radar was a major achievement in turning the Battle of Britain to British favor. The now familiar "blips" appearing on the radar screens in 1940 alerted the R.A.F. to approaching German bombers. Finally, British technology gained mastery of the air. The production of Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft provided the R.A.F. with large numbers of two of the finest military aircraft then developed, an industrial outcome soon matched in bomber production.

If the Island Kingdom thus proved that it still had sufficient Cromwellian spirit to produce another "New Army," the major industrial impact on the war came from across the Atlantic.

Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that the United States was the "Arsenal of Democracy." He did not exaggerate. American wartime production was phenomenal, beyond the belief of many Europeans. When, for instance, Goebbels was informed of the American aircraft production figures for 1943, he dismissed them as sheer fantasy.

American industry was not, however, geared to wartime production until this nation's entry into the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Thereafter, American factories won a continuous victory in the battle of statistics. American military equipment and industrial equipment (such as heavy machine tools) went to Great Britain and to Russia. Despite the fact that the Americans found themselves fighting a two-front war - a naval war in the Pacific against the Japanese; and a land war, first in North Africa and then in Europe against the Germans - there were no major shortages in manpower or equipment.

The combination of military forces and equipment that the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States brought to bear on Festung Europa was overwhelming. Hopelessly looking for miracles in the last days of the war, Hitler was briefly cheered by the news of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. The bearer of these tidings was Josef Goebbels, who personally telephoned the declining Fuhrer. Then Goebbels ordered champagne for his own staff to rejoice in the thought that "this is like the death of Tzarina Elizabeth." In this statement, Goebbels referred to the dark days when Frederick the Great was badly embattled in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Suddenly, the Tzarina's successor, Peter III, withdrew from the war. What Goebbels did was make a false historical comparison, for he now assumed that the death of Roosevelt might cause the United States to withdraw from the war. Not only did Goebbels' jubilation demonstrate how far Nazi war leadership was then removed from harsh reality, but also it proved the major role that the United States had come to play in European affairs.

Hitler was no Frederick the Great; and the outcome of this war, unlike that of the Seven Years War, sealed Germany's military fate. German militarism, so important in modern European history, was no longer to be a constant condition in European affairs. Nevertheless, "Hitler's War" was a major formative factor in the redesign of contemporary Europe.

NEXT:  The Effects of the War






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