The Second World War was the most important event in the 20th century. It changed the course of history when the destruction caused by the conflict resulted in changing the power structure in Europe. At the end of the war the economies of Germany, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom was threatened due to war reparations and the cost of human lives. But the United States who waged war from a distance came out of the war as the new global superpower. But in the first two years of the second global conflict there was no indication that Axis Powers will lose the war.
It was only after Germany engaged the enemy on two fronts and when the United States joined the fray that the Allied Powers were able to gather enough strength to defeat Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy. Background It is impossible to understand World War II without going back a few decades and study the First World War. This is because the first and second global conflict had one common denominator – Germany as the main player and main loser for both events. In World War I Germany was in the center of the conflict as it tried to honor an alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The heir to the Astro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated by someone who had links to the Serbian government. Thus the Hapsburg Empire was forced to issue an ultimatum to Serbia. The Serbian government in turn had pride and honor at stake and this prevented them from acceding to their demands. Russia was sympathetic to Serbia and promised to assist her if Germany will support the Hapsburg government. The only problem here is that Russia was allied to France and Britain. The Triple Entente composed of Britain, France and Russia was bound by an accord that the triumvirate signed in 1907 (Neiberg, 2005).
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On the other hand, the opposing team, the Central Powers composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria were bound by their own treaties and alliances as well (Neiberg, 2005). And so begins the chain reaction of events that would escalate the conflict in Europe. To make the long story short the Central Powers were defeated by the Triple Entente. It is interesting to note that after the First World War Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary Empire and Turkey were reduced to almost nothing. Germany suffered the same fate, humiliated and without the capability to rise up again as an empire.
All of that began to change two decades later when an ambitious young leader by the name of Adolph Hitler – he was a corporal in World War I – was able to inspire the German people that they can repossessed what was taken from them. In the 1930s Hitler with his charisma and visionary leadership was able to create a Nazi party that would soon threaten the whole world. Nazi Germany’s Early Success There are many reasons why Nazi Germany was militarily successful in the first two years of the war. First of all, Hitler’s Nazi party, the engine that runs the war campaign had the support of the German people.
According to Fulbrook, “For much of the 1930s, they experienced a certain congruence of aims with the Nazis, in the areas of economic regeneration under authoritarian, anti-union auspices, and rearmament and revision of the hated Treaty of Versailles” (1991). Aside from the popularity of the Nazi party, German forces were successful in war because of Hitler’s visionary leadership as well as his decisiveness when it comes to enforicing Nazi foreign policy. Hitler was able to communicate so clearly how Germany would rise again and take back what belongs to them.
He was able to show the German people that if they will do it right this time, then never again will outsiders ridicule them. His vision will be realized if the German people will support his foreign policy program. As mentioned earlier this will entail the revising of the Treaty of Versailles – an armistice with the victors of World War I that proved to be disastrous for Germany. Secondly, Hitler’s foreign policy requires the incorporation of Austria and transforming Czechoslovakia and Poland into satellite states; then confronting France and then Russia before going after world domination (Fulbrook, 1991).
This foreign policy program may have been a byproduct of the Fuhrer’s false sense of superiority but one has to admit that it inspired the German people. For those who doubt they only need to review war films and pictures that show enthusiastic German soldiers eager to lay their lives for Hitler’s dream of a Third Reich. War Weary Europe The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1918. In 1938 Hitler’s army marched triumphantly into Austria without firing a single shot; it was a bloodless invasion. In 1938 Europe was only two decades removed from the bloodiest European conflict in recent history.
The Europeans could still feel the impact of the First World War where millions of young men died from senseless violence. Now here comes Hitler, with an army determined to fight old enemies once again in the blood drenched battlefields of Europe. It was clear that France and Britain are not interested for a repeat performance. It was clear for Hitler and his cohorts that Britain is their number one problem. But Britain was not the same empire that terrorized many in the 18th and 19th century. In the 1930s it was a shell of its former self.
It had to go through a bloody war with its American colonies and in 1914 to 1918 participated in the first global war. Britain was war weary as the rest of Europe. Aside form that the British had to deal with a lot of problems as a result of having many colonies around the world (Rock, 2000). Hitler apparently understood that Britain will not stand in his way and so Hitler began to move his troops to continue his conquest and next stop was Czechoslovakia. This prompted action from the Britain but they did not wish to fight Germany, only to negotiate.
The then British Prime Minister Chamberlain tried to diffuse the situation by offering appeasement to Germany. At the end of the Munich Conference in 1938, there were certain borders of Czechoslovakia that was ceded to Nazi Germany (Fulbrook, 2005). Chamberlain declared that peace was achieved and war averted but he did not realize that Hitler was merely warming up. Less than a year later Hitler invaded what was left of Czechoslovakia and was met with little resistance. At this point Hitler has become a European bully; but no one was strong enough to stand against him.
Leaders from France and Britain tried their best to be strategic and not use their emotions in making decisions. Meanwhile Hitler made another brilliant move when he secured a pact with Russia. By doing so Hitler will be assured that in the event of an escalation of conflict he will not have to fight a war in two fronts. Hitler began to make another major campaign, this time he wanted to get Poland. But Britain said no and then went further to assure the Polish government that Great Britain is ready to help her against foreign invaders.
But by this time, “…Hitler had by now formed the impression that Britain was essentially weak and vacillating, and would not stand by its guarantee” (Fulbrook, 2005). Less than a year after the Munich Conference Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In a lighting campaign (Blitzkrieg) German forces overwhelmed Poland in less than three weeks of fighting (Fulbrook, 2005). Britain and France declared war on Germany. Hitler’s Army Aside from Hitler’s charisma, vision and decisive leadership, another important aspect of Nazi Germany is the presence of elite soldiers called the German SS or Schutzstaffeln.
These were handpicked men that were groomed to become an elite fighting unit. The German SS would, “…spearhead some of the most crucial battles of WWII while its men would shoulder some of the most difficult and daunting combat operations of the units in the German military” (GermanWArMachine, 2007). In 1929 Hitler asked his most trusted aide, Heinrich Himmler to form an elite force that will safeguard the Nazi Party, “…a troop dependable in every circumstance” (Stein, 1984). And that is what he got.
After undergoing a process of difficult training and learning how to best serve under the Third Reich the German SS went through a baptism of fire. In June 30, 1934, in an event that will be known as the Night of the Long Knives SS troops crossed a point of no return and forever sealed their fate as the most frightening Special Forces under the command of the Fuhrer (Stein, 1984). In this fateful night Hitler ordered his shock troops to eliminate the core group of their arch-rival the SA (Sturmabteilungen).
The bloody purging, where the German SS killed their former comrade-in-arms forever changed their image and their mindsets, now they are ready to conquer the world. Allied Victory There were at least four major factors that led to Allied Victory, first of all there was strong leadership among the Allied Forces; secondly the United States of America, the emerging global superpower decided to participate after years of being an observer; thirdly the Allied Forces ability to exploit resources, specifically fossil fuel; and finally Allied Victory was made possible by Hitler’s major blunder, engaging the enemy in two fronts.
All four will be discussed in the following pages starting with the discussion of leadership that was well illustrated by the actions of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Marshall, and Gen. Eisenhower. Leadership The Second World War was not only about battlefields and mechanized warfare. It was also a political stage where national leaders from both side of the fence were able to show their courage, brilliance, and strength of character. One of the most important leaders during the dark times of Nazi supremacy was Winston Churchill who made a defiant stand against Hitler and his army.
This was illustrated in the year 1941, in one of the darkest times in British history. The British government declared war on Germany and received a harsh reply; the forces of the Third Reich continued to pound on Great Britain and weakened her considerably. Hitler and his cohorts were very much aware that the English people are going to be a major roadblock to world domination. Yet, Hitler was confident that the England would finally succumb to their air raid and Blitzkrieg. But Hitler underestimated the resolve of one man – Winston Churchill.
At the onset of World War II the U. S. government could not see the wisdom of meddling with the European conflict. America was so far removed from the European theater of war that it was contented to stay on the sidelines. Still, America contributed to the Allied cause by sending in equipment and war materials to Britain. This neutral stance would have remained if only Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor. But after the shocking attack in the said American military base, the United States could not simply wage war against the formidable trio of Germany, Japan and Italy.
The U. S. mainland needed the wisdom and strength of an able leader. They were fortunate to find these rare qualities in the person of Franklin D. Roosevelt. While Churchill and Roosevelt played a crucial role in bringing together alliance that would defeat Nazi Germany it would require another set of leaders to execute a plan for defeating Hitler in Europe. In this regard two outstanding military leaders needed to be mentioned in this section – George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. In 1942 the Americans are already part of the conflict.
Its main job is to build an army, secure the shipping lines to get it overseas, establish and organization through which America can work with the British on a strategy to defeat Hitler (Ambrose, 1999). The United States was fortunate to have George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower on board. Stephen Ambrose was able to succinctly describe the contribution of these great men and he wrote: Marshall’s strengths were in the higher levels of policy, organization, and strategy. In these areas Eisenhower followed, for he was an operator rather than a theoretician, the perfect man to take Marshall’s concepts and translate them into practice.
The Supreme Allied Command in Europe would never have come about had it not been for Marshall’s thought, driving force, and persuasive powers, but it would not have worked had it not been for Eisenhower (Ambrose, 1999). All these men worked together to bring about Allied victory. The Free World will forever be indebted to Churchill for his defiant stand against Germany. If he raised the white flag of surrender in 1940 Hitler could have easily gathered momentum and proceeded with his ultimate plan of world domination.
Without Roosevelt’s wisdom of first helping the British and then following shortly to join the war the Allied Forces could not have mustered enough manpower and firepower to defeat the Axis Powers. And without the able leadership of Marshall and Eisenhower Allied Forces could not have assembled an army so large and so effective that it was able to bring Germany to its knees. American Participation Much has been said about the defiant stand of the British forces as well as the British people who had to endure the regular air raids of the German Luftwaffe.
But Great Britain knew that the best that they could hope for was a stalemate. They had to get help from an outsider in order for them to break the deadlock and proceed to start a counter-attack. But in the beginning of the war it was clear that there is no other nation in Europe that could neutralize the brutal efficiency and rabid determination of the German army. The assistance that Britain desperately needed did not come from the European continent but form another land mass across the Atlantic. One of the gross tactical error of the Axis Powers was to give the go signal for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor.
With hindsight it will be easy to analyze that attacking and provoking America was a serious blunder that cost them the war. America was content to stay behind the scenes and did not make any commitment to lend a major part of their industries to help the Allied Forces. But all of this changed when Pearl Harbor was decimated by Japan’s Imperial forces. The subsequent declaration of America that it has joined the war signaled a crucial turning point in World War II. Resources One of the most crucial factors that gave victory to the Allies was there capability to exploit and control fossil fuel.
According to Williamson Murray access to petroleum products was an important aspect of the war considering that Germany and Japan were already dependent on foreign oil before they went to war (Murray, 2001). This probably explains why Hitler planned on scoring a quick victory. It was apparent that Hitler could not afford to engage in a long-drawn-out war. But as the war progressed the participation of the United States proved to be very crucial because America produced two-thirds of the world’s petroleum (Murray, 2001).
When Germany and Japan could not access fossil fuel their operations was critically affected. Germany Divided Leadership was an important factor in winning the war for the Allies. But the Axis Powers had great leaders too so it can easily neutralize the Allied Forces in the leadership department. The entry of the United States in World War II was also a factor why Germany lost in the war but America was too far away from Europe and it would require a massive logistical effort before it can begin developing and sending soldiers into Europe. Germany still had time to prepare for the incoming Americans.
Resources was also a crucial factor in the war but if Hitler can continually use Blitzkrieg, his lightning fast method of deploying troops and engaging the enemy, the war could be over even without draining resources form Germany. In the initial phase of World War II this was the case – European nations easily gave up their freedom when held at gunpoint by German forces. Therefore it can be argued that the single most crucial factor that led to the demise of Nazi Germany was its decision to disregard the pact made earlier between Russia and then proceeded to attack the Soviet Union.
At this point Hitler was so full of himself so he decided that in the summer of 1941 his army will attack Russia, “…thus affecting what he had previously been concerned to avoid: war on two fronts” (Fulbrook, 1991). By engaging Britain and Russia at once German forces were over-extended and ill-equipped (Fubrook, 1991). When the combined American and British forces came later Germany could no longer sustain its attack and slowly began to disintegrate. Conclusion The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles were put in place to control Germany so that it will never duplicate what it has achieved in World War I.
But this strategy backfired when Adolph Hitler used the sentiments of the people against the said treaty. He promised them that he will revise the Treaty of Versailles if only the German people will support him in war. When Hitler secured the support of the people, he did not waste time and proceeded to use Blitzkrieg, a German term for lightning quick attacks on enemy territories. Through this method Hitler was able to expand German territory in less than two years, a considerable feat. Europe was tired of war.
The recently concluded World War I was fresh in the memory of most people. This gave Hitler the confidence that nations would not resist and allow him to take what he wanted. But he overestimated his capabilities and the capability of Nazi Germany. When it engaged England, Russia, and America at the same time, German soldiers were spread thin and lacking military equipment. The protracted war was not part of Hitler’s plans. When America came in to break the deadlock between Allied and Axis forces Germany began to lose steam and in 1945 it finally raised the white flag.
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