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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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