They always did tend towards having the snappiest uniforms
December 2, 2010 9:18 AM   Subscribe

American military planners are fascinated with German/Prussian military history. Busts of Von Clauswitz adorn American military academies where On War is taught, often with the misperception that Von Clauswitz viewed war as a controllable science. Shock & Awe is just the idea of Blitzkrieg with better weapons. Endless exhortations about unit cohesion (a complex, multi-layered idea with no military definition that is nonetheless used to keep gay soldiers from openly serving) comes from admiration for the Wehrmacht, their discipline and courage on the battlefield. So too the idea of a military culture separate and more honorable than the civilians they protect, advancing the professional warrior model at the expense of the citizen-soldier model. But to quote author military/adventure author Tom Clancy, “Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?Previously
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (128 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
To answer Clancy's question, it strikes me that the reasons the German military lost those wars was mostly political, rather than martial. I mean, in addition to Hitler's military idiocy, Nazism as an ideology doesn't leave a lot of room for compromise, strategic retreat, realizing when the limits of the fighting force have been reached, etc.
posted by downing street memo at 9:26 AM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


“Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?”

It's the uniforms.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


To be fair, our uniforms are pretty terrible. We look like we rolled out of bed in our PJs.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and now I see the title text. I have failed.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting post, thanks.

So too the idea of a military culture separate and more honorable than the civilians they protect, advancing the professional warrior model at the expense of the citizen-soldier model.

I vaguely remember Heinlein touching on this concept in Starship Troopers, in a flashback lecture by DuBois in "History and Moral Philosophy" class.
posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2010


It's the uniforms.

For the reenactor on your Christmas list.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2010


To answer Clancy's question, it strikes me that the reasons the German military lost those wars was mostly political, rather than martial.

THEY WERE STABBED IN ZE BACK!
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


the idea of a military culture separate and more honorable than the civilians they protect

An idea both inside AND outside the military.

...advancing the professional warrior model at the expense of the citizen-soldier model.

I hope you aren't espousing socialism, because that could get Our Brave Heroes Killed In Iraq.
posted by DU at 9:44 AM on December 2, 2010


When I was young and stupid, I once remarked to an older Irish relative, "I wonder who the best gangsters are?"

"Best gangsters?" he asked. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean, who were the gangsters that were the best," I said. "The toughest, the meanest, the most bad-ass."
"Uhh..."
"I mean, like, who's better? The Mafia or the, what do you call it in Ireland, the IRA?"

He very appropriately proceeded to kick my 12-year-old dipshit American ass.

"It's not a fucking game! They fucking kneecap people. Do you even know what that is?"

And in one fell swoop, I learned the meaning of that term and pretty much stopped admiring felons for their clothes and guns and shit.

Still enjoy watching The Godfather, though ... leave the car, take the cannoli.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:45 AM on December 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Also, just to set things straight, the concept of Blitzkrieg was invented by this guy.
posted by Artw at 9:45 AM on December 2, 2010


the answer? the Cunard Steamship motto:

GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
posted by Postroad at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2010


An ealier comment of mine on the same topic:

...The cold war was poisonous... in a rush to one-up the Soviets, we copied the Germans, but we didn't learn from them... ...The Nazi's had heroic, fancy uniforms. US Officers wore uniforms that were basically olive-drab business suits, enlisted men wore olive drab workman's clothing tucked into workman's boots. We fought the war on our terms, and were damn successful.

Today, look around the US Military's arsenal. The assault rifle is a copy of a Nazi design, and the battle rifle, which won the war, was scrapped as obsolete. American armor is over sized and over priced, just like the the Panzers, and American fighters and bombers are fragile high-tech marvels that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, just like the Luftwaffe... ...So much waste, so much extravagance, so much just useless strutting and showing off. No wonder we're getting creamed by amateurs with bombs built in the basement. We forgot that intelligence, counterintelligence and practical, effective logistics are what win wars...

posted by Slap*Happy at 9:49 AM on December 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


mostly political, rather than martial

World War II was won in the same way the West "won" the Cold War, we outspent them. Military production during WWII.

The only possible way the Axis could have won, outside of alternative history musings, was for the Allies to have lost the will to fight early on. Then they would have had to deal with controlling massive swathes of occupied territory, kind of like Afghanistan x50...
posted by ecurtz at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


“Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?”

The Germans would have won WWII if they had listened to the military and concentrated on the center and captured Moscow, or even pushed on to the Caucasus, instead of bowing down before Hitler and getting pinned down at Stalingrad.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's more about having the resources to support a protracted fight. They might have won WWII had they been able to seize and hold oil, coal and metal ore producing areas in the former Soviet Union. They didn't just go east for "Lebensraum," they wanted the raw materials.

Nobody will deny they were good at fighting wars. Ask the Russians about how they fought even in 1944-45.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:58 AM on December 2, 2010


The Germans would have won WWII

The atomic bomb was going to happen no matter what, at a cost of about $20B. The Axis had the same ability to put a fighting force in New Mexico as it did on the moon.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the uniforms.

It really is a big part of it.

See Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism".
posted by Joe Beese at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not really seeing anything in any of the OP's links that proves the thesis being argued, i.e., that American military planners are obsessed with German military history (more or less than any other military planners), other than a lot of links to Clausewitz writings and/or web stuff about Clausewitz. I'm also curious about the assertion that cohesion is due to a fixation on the Wehrmacht, because the concept of unit cohesion has been around since at least the writing of Ardant du Picq, a French military officer who died in 1870.

It seems to me that Clausewitz may be of more than passing interest to American military planners because he had a lot to say about the theory and execution of war, not just because he was a Prussian.
posted by blucevalo at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


nobody's said it yet... come ON! Don't force me to say it...
posted by HuronBob at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2010


...the German military lost those wars was mostly political, rather than martial.

WWI
- as the war was beginning, the Kaiser tried to order the army to move east against Russia. A quick win against Russia plus taking no offensive action against France might have made for a short war. Moltke basically overruled him and said that the timetable for deployment against France could not be changed.
- the Schlieffen plan was a huge gamble that the war would be short. Invading Belgium brought the British into the war
- the gamble might have worked if Moltke hadn't watered it down. He shifted troops to his left flank, chasing a double envelopment fantasy. He also sent a corps back to Russia; that brought about Tannenberg, but it also left the right wing short of troops

Conclusion: the primary cause of German defeat in WWI was the arrogance of the German military.


WWII
- the Germans eventually lost their Blitzkrieg monopoly. Even without taking Hitler's insane orders into account, the Russian General staff under Zhukov came to be just as sharp as the Germans
- the Americans were far better at logistics. It's not just that they were able to make more stuff, it's that they were also far better at getting supplies to the troops who needed it. The Germans lost huge numbers of troops on the Eastern front due to inadequate food, clothing and medicine. Even on the Western front, captured American rations became an important food source

Conclusion: the Germans lost because they tried to take on the whole world at once. That was Hitler's fault. However, the German victories in 1939-1940 gave a false impression of permanent superiority. The army believed its own hype, and that had to have been a contributing factor to Hitler's believing that quick victory in Russia was assured. In a long war where the enemy had time to learn from their mistakes and where logistics mattered the weaknesses of the German army became apparent.


The professional warrior model breeds arrogance. Overconfidence can lead to avoidable mistakes and defeat. Worse, when an arrogant officer class has political influence the country can be dragged into ultimately unwinnable wars.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


This reminds me of a thought Orwell had in one of his essays. He remarked that the difference between Prussian/German society and British society was that in Britain many had a sense of humour about the army. You could laugh at it and more often than not the common person remembered more battles which were fantastical blunders than victories. But if you lived in a goose stepping Prussia such humour was impossible because its society was so dominated by the military caste.

I think that whatever interest America appears to have with Prussian tradition is because we too often lack Britain's lighter touch. We have a sort of ingrained deference to the military that an old Prussian would have well understood.
posted by boubelium at 10:26 AM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


KokuRyu: The Germans would have won WWII if they had listened to the military and concentrated on the center and captured Moscow, or even pushed on to the Caucasus, instead of bowing down before Hitler and getting pinned down at Stalingrad.

The German military thought there military equipment and vehicles were much better than Soviet equipment but, for instance, the Soviet T-34 was superior to anything the Wehrmacht had. The German army were just as convinced of their own superiority to other armies as the Nazis were convinced of Aryan racial supremacy. The German military leadership wasn't as foolish as the Nazi high command, but the Nazi bigwigs were a bunch of ideologues, grifters and crazies, so anyone comes out well in that comparison. Furthermore, the German military was always in bed with German nationalism, so separating the two is not straightforward.
posted by Kattullus at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2010


the Nazi bigwigs were a bunch of ideologues, grifters and crazies

This sounds awfully familiar.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Speaking of the appeal of German uniforms: "Are we the baddies?"
posted by mhum at 10:36 AM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


World War II was won in the same way the West "won" the Cold War, we outspent them.

Which is only really doable under a Clauswitzian system. I suspect Americans are fond of Clauswitz because we can totally dominate that kind of battle. Asymetric warfare is much less fun.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:37 AM on December 2, 2010


I'm not really seeing anything in any of the OP's links that proves the thesis being argued...

Yeah, this post is kind of sub-par. There's a definite thesis here, but it's totally unsupported. A link to reenactors that is supposed to support a point about US military admiration of the Wermacht? A link to a wikipedia article about a guy who went to West Point and served in the miliatry his whole life is used as an example of a professional warrior, while the citizen solider example is a wiki link about a guy who went to West Point and served in the military his whole life? The link supposedly about misconceptions of Clausewitz at US military academies being anything but?

It seems that we're just supposed to take the idea of US military Prussian-worship as obvious, with the links merely gilding the lily.
posted by Snyder at 10:38 AM on December 2, 2010


"The atomic bomb was going to happen no matter what, at a cost of about $20B. The Axis had the same ability to put a fighting force in New Mexico as it did on the moon."

True enough. I did mean winning the war in a more conventional sense, as in taking and holding enough of Europe and the FSU to achieve some kind of balance or stalemate. Hard to say what the nuclear options would have been in that case.

We should all be happy they made the mistakes they did, and miscalculated the US response.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2010


Asymetric warfare is much less fun.

For ideas on that you turn to the Israelis, and, well, how many asymmetric wars have they not turned into a sustained clusterfucks that makes everybody hate them?
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder how this fits in with post WWII german history. The argument many germans raised against getting rid of conscription was that without regular civilians in it, the military would become culturally detached from the rest of the country and that this could lead to a distinct, aggressive ethos forming there.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 10:41 AM on December 2, 2010


This post reads like an attempt by Tom Clancy to godwin the entire military-industrial complex.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:46 AM on December 2, 2010


You know who else loves Bavarian military symbolism? The Denver Airport. Wasn't there a FPP about this a while ago?
posted by GuyZero at 11:01 AM on December 2, 2010


Yeah, you could make the exact same post about how American military planners are fascinated with French military history, or British military history, or Greek military history, or Roman military history. Only a fool wouldn't examine Clausewitz, or the Blitzkrieg, or German unit cohesion in WWII (which was fucking spectacular, especially as everything else was falling apart near the end).

That said, I agree that the professional warrior ethos is highly problematic... but in the States, at least, this comes from post-Vietnam politics, not "an admiration of the Wehrmacht". I think we'd be much better off if we stopped buying expensive toys and returned to a system of universal service, but the idea that we're not doing this because of Germany is ridiculous.
posted by vorfeed at 11:07 AM on December 2, 2010


Furthermore, the German military was always in bed with German nationalism, so separating the two is not straightforward.

Good point. I think it's very dangerous to separate the significant accomplishments of the German military in the early stages of WW2 from the deeply weird and passionate (and ultimately catastrophic) nationalism that was Nazism. The same applies to any nation that goes to war. It's not just the cold reason and mechanisms of their military machines that drive them; it's also their various cultural mythos.

Or as I once heard it put: War is the art of hell, and there's always more to art than just application of craft and technique.
posted by philip-random at 11:29 AM on December 2, 2010


Oh, there will always people trying to separate out "the good Germans" who were full of Prussian pride but honourable and juts fighting for their country from the those Nazis who were responsible for all the bad stuff. The good Germans were just led astray, you see.

It is, naturally, a somewhat theory bollocks.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or rather, a somewhat bollocks theory. Gah.
posted by Artw at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2010


These juts fighting for their country, were they from Jutland?
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Germans would have won WWII if they had listened to the military and concentrated on the center and captured Moscow, or even pushed on to the Caucasus, instead of bowing down before Hitler and getting pinned down at Stalingrad.

This is just laughable. Alternative history scenarios are always questionable, but this here is based on utter ignorance. Not only would the Germans not have won WWII against the world, but no matter what they did, they would not have won against the Soviets. Taking Moscow would have meant nothing - as it meant nothing when Napoleon did so, and got his ass kicked (and btw., he was ten times the military strategist that the whole Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was in the 1940's). They had major problems - just as Napoleon did - with supply lines, and stretching those further would have only made it worse. But by far the biggest omission here is the fact that Stalin had socked away major forces back in the East behind the Urals, just for such a possibility (and to defend against Japan, should Japan have joined the Germans in attacking them). Further, you seriously underestimate the fact that German military-industrial capacity was stretched to the limit as it was (in fact, contrary to popular conceptions, the Nazis had serious problems with equipping their forces), whereas Stalin had moved a lot of military production capacity east and was just getting ramped up. Stalin made serious mistakes in decimating his high-ranking officers before the war and then not adequately assessing Hitler's intentions (trusting the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact), but once the Soviets got attacked they started ramping up production and were unstoppable. In fact, it is a well acknowledged fact that the Soviets would have single-handedly defeated the Nazis - and part of the reason for the timetable of U.S. actions was in fear of seeing just that happen. Now, the U.S. also helped the Soviets (lend-lease), but even the Soviets would have won anyway (only it would have taken longer and been bloodier for the Soviets).

And all this apart from actions from the U.S. - because even if hypothetically the Germans were to defeat the Soviets, they were doomed once the U.S. military production started. The Germans were overstretched and had no hope - none - of winning.

Here's the only possible scenario for winning - but it would have required being the very opposite of what the Nazi's central ideology was, kind of a mirror world, if you will: instead of being anti-Semites at their core, had they been philo-Semitic, or at least non-racist in general. Had they patiently cultivated - with nationalism but minus racism - their scientific resources, they'd have the A-bomb before the allies did. Remember, many Jews fought valiantly for Germany in WWI - and the Jewish contribution to Germany was enormous. The Nazis took all that and destroyed it. Scientists fled to aid the allies and now their talents resulted in the U.S. being first with the A-weapon. Unquestionably, the Germans were ahead in atomic research before the war - but could not compete once they decimated their Jewish scientists. So - ridiculous scenario - had the Germans patiently obtained their weapons *as well as intercontinental delivery capability* before attacking ANY country, patiently built a strategy based on nuclear superiority and only THEN attacked - well, who knows, perhaps they may have won. But that's like saying "if my aunt was my uncle" - Nazis being anti-Semitic and racist, building their entire ideology on racial superiority having to invert that entirely. It's like saying the Catholic Church must not only renounce the purported ideology of Christianity, but practice the exact opposite ideology of Evil... oh wait...
posted by VikingSword at 12:42 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?

Amen. I have a masters in history, focusing on the social history of the German Army. To say that the Germans are totally overrated is an understatement.

The most overrated of all is Erwin Rommel, who continually got his ass beat getting overextended in ways that were brutally obvious to everyone.

I've always wanted to write a book called "Desert Myth" about how the British and the Germans collaborated to pump Rommel up--the British to explain their defeats under even more incompetent commanders and the Germans to make it seem like they were on the offensive as their armies ground to a halt around the world.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:46 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Germans would have won WWII if they had listened to the military and concentrated on the center and captured Moscow, or even pushed on to the Caucasus, instead of bowing down before Hitler and getting pinned down at Stalingrad

This is definitely not the case. I don't believe the extra few weeks that not surrounding Army Group South would have provided would have done anything to help the German Army win the war. First, even if the Germans would have taken Moscow, it would not have meant the collapse of the Bolshevik regime. It didn't win the war for Napoleon and the Germans would have faced the same situation. Stuck in a frozen and burnt-out capital with no food or shelter.

Second, it is simply a matter of force over space. Beyond Moscow is hundreds of miles of the same thing. Not enough troops. Not ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:50 PM on December 2, 2010


zoogleplex: We should all be happy they made the mistakes they did, and miscalculated the US response.

You guys do realise that it was the Russians who defeated Germany, right? Actually no, I guess you probably don't....
And then there is the whole thing about The Bomb only being used to prove that Americans could win the other war. What with Stalin headed east fast after handing it to the Nazis and all.
posted by Chuckles at 12:56 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


the Nazis had serious problems with equipping their forces

Yeah, people tend to forget that, while the Nazis had whiz-bang cool stuff like jets and V-2 rockets, they relied significantly on horse-drawn artillery and supply lines.

David Webster: [at a passing column of German prisoners] Hey, you! That's right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That's right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin' Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


^ Given Ford's view on Jews and Germans, I'm not so sure he wouldn't have eagerly said 'hi' back.
posted by reformedjerk at 1:23 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is the point of this post?
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2010


You guys do realise that it was the Russians who defeated Germany, right? Actually no, I guess you probably don't....

You're wrong on a number of levels. First, assuming that people on Metafilter don't understand the ratio of ground forces committed against Germany. It's ludicrous to think that we don't realize that the Soviet forces always massively outnumbered the Western Allies. Second, through your apparent belief that the Russians were acting alone and unsupported. It may have been Russian troops, but it was American trucks (to pick one example).

What the Germans never seem to have understood and Americans grasped immediately is that conventional war is not won by individual valor, it is won by logistics. And denying the contribution of American logistics to the war effort is almost as wrong as denying the spilled Russian blood.

Not only would the Germans not have won WWII against the world, but no matter what they did, they would not have won against the Soviets.

I do think that some in this thread are being overly confident about the ability of the Soviet Union to continue to resist in the absence of American logistical support and with the loss of Moscow. Moscow was far more important in 1941 than it was in 1812. Take one look at a rail map of the USSR circa 1941 and you'll see this at once. By itself the loss of Moscow wouldn't end the war, of course, but without American logistical support and the Western Allies tying down some men and a lot of material in the West, it is not inevitable that the USSR could have by itself defeated Germany. Hell, the ten thousand 88s aimed at the skies over France would have been a significant force if aimed at Russian tanks instead.

It is inevitable that Germany would lose when fighting against all of the Allies, but that's not at all the same situation as a fight against the Soviets alone.

Perhaps VikingSword meant that they could not have won even against only Soviet troops which may be true as long as the Lend Lease and so on continued (although I don't believe this is quite as absolutely inevitable as he thinks) but in the absence of any Western support? Nah. All the men in the world do you no good if you can't get them where they need to be, feed them when they get there, and provide them ammunition to kill the enemy with.
posted by Justinian at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


So... how about the opposite question: Could the West have won without the Soviet Union?
posted by Artw at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2010


It depends on what you mean by "won". They could make a desert and call it peace.
posted by Justinian at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


MarshallPos:
What is the point of this post?
To demonstrate that 65 years after WWII people are STILL obsessed by the German military.
posted by sien at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


So... how about the opposite question: Could the West have won without the Soviet Union?

Fat Man and Little Boy say yes.

Then again, some might say that without the pressure of the Eastern front, the Nazis would have been free to pour their energies into their own programs, such as improved logistics, V-2s, jet fighters and the like. Even their own nukes? Who knows?

This is where the discussion leads straight into the wilderness, from which there are no answers, only arguments.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2010


Perhaps VikingSword meant that they could not have won even against only Soviet troops which may be true as long as the Lend Lease and so on continued (although I don't believe this is quite as absolutely inevitable as he thinks) but in the absence of any Western support? Nah. All the men in the world do you no good if you can't get them where they need to be, feed them when they get there, and provide them ammunition to kill the enemy with.

I'm perfectly aware of Lend Lease (in fact I mentioned it as a factor in my post), but it's also true that "Lend-Lease provided the Soviets with only about 10% of their materiel, the particular items provided allowed the Soviets to concentrate on production of those things which they did well and were set up and tooled to do, avoiding the diversion of resources to build new plants to close gaps in Soviet production capability." Does this mean it wasn't important? Absolutely not, as the link makes clear - it wasn't just about trucks, but even more importantly about crucial raw materials (non-ferrous metals especially). Still, let's keep that in perspective - it was very important, indeed it shortened the war for the Soviets by probably years, but the outcome was never in doubt - because however bad the Soviet position was, the German was even worse from those very points of view (supply lines, material, men, industrial capacity etc.). The Germans were in hostile territory.

And indeed, taking Moscow absolutely would have not meant the defeat of the Soviets - that's just absurd. The Soviets made extensive preparations for that eventuality - and it would have given the Germans nothing of what they really needed in the way of supplies, men, and industrial production. What's especially funny in this context is that taking Moscow was actually virtually impossible for the Germans, even as taking it would have been an empty prize:

"Hitler was determined to reach Moscow before winter. By November, the Germans were only 19 miles (31 kilometres) outside the city. But the mud and winter weather—the worst in 20 years—stopped them. The German planes could not handle the subzero temperatures. Fires had to be set under the engines to help start them. The few heaters they had were used on the engines even though the mechanics’ hands froze to their tools. The Germans would never reach Moscow."

And again, this doesn't even touch on the critical part - the Soviets had a huge advantage in capacity socked away behind the Urals - continued from the same link:

"The Russians were in better shape. Their planes were equipped for colder temperatures. And as the Germans approached Moscow, the entire Soviet aviation industry—1,500 facilities with 10 million employees--picked up and moved east across the Ural Mountains, away from the battlefront, to even more inhospitable conditions and no buildings in place at all. Within weeks of their move, however, they had constructed new plants and resumed aircraft production. By December, they had reached their previous production level and by the start of 1942, they had surpassed it. New airplanes began to stream back to the front, supporting counteroffensives during the winter that had pushed the Germans away from Moscow."

Again, unquestionably the U.S. support was extremely important - but it would only have lengthened the war for the Soviets, not altered the end result.
posted by VikingSword at 2:12 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well our army may like Clauswitz and his theories but our organization is based on Napoleon's organization of the Grande Armee. Form corps to companies.

And Clauswitz was developing his theories while Napoleon was kicking Prussia's ass. Guess where he got a lot of his ideas?
posted by Max Power at 2:15 PM on December 2, 2010


So... how about the opposite question: Could the West have won without the Soviet Union?

Absolutely. Again, it would have been much, much longer without the Soviets. But the Germans were doomed. There was no way for them to win - except very speculatively, in a way I outlined in my first post in this thread.

As Japan understood - once the U.S. industrial capacity was turned toward war production, we were unstoppable. No combination of Axis powers could withstand that. Japan hoped to strike before the sleeping giant awoke. They failed. And the entire Nazi - and Imperial Japan - project was utterly doomed.
posted by VikingSword at 2:16 PM on December 2, 2010


I do think that some in this thread are being overly confident about the ability of the Soviet Union to continue to resist in the absence of American logistical support and with the loss of Moscow. Moscow was far more important in 1941 than it was in 1812. Take one look at a rail map of the USSR circa 1941 and you'll see this at once.

Yes but the Germans were at their last gasp, literally, in 1941 at the gates of Moscow. That battle almost sealed their defeat. It is understudied and little-understood. I suggest Albert Seaton's The Battle For Moscow. Probably the best easy-read in English on the battle. Had the Russians realized that their position was actually quite good vis-a-vis the Germans a little earlier, and things might have been way different. The destruction of Army Group Center in 1941--that's an interesting scenario to say the least.

Had the Germans actually taken Moscow, their position would have been even worse, I think. The Russians would have razed the city, of course, as they did all the cities on the way back. And the Germans would have been involved in house-to-house fighting that would have made Stalingrad look like two kids kicking sand at each other in a sandbox. We are talking about a much, much, larger city. How an exhausted Army Group Center would have taken the city completely is beyond me.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:26 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth has it. What exactly would the Germans gain from having Moscow - apart from having to fight every single building and every single room in that building (see Stalingrad)? People keep saying "Lend Lease" - fine. But what they don't seem to understand is - what about the Germans? The German military industry was in desperate shape - much, much wore than the Soviets who had safe haven behind the Urals. The Germans were in hostile territory - enormous, hostile territory - in the Soviet Union - and they had horrific supply problems. Eventually - even without Lend-Lease, the Soviets would have built back up - but what about those Germans trying to hold onto the hostile territory? Here's the point - time was not on the side of the Germans. So the Soviets would need more - much more - time without the Lend-Lease, but time was on their side. It was not on the side of the Germans. The Germans were tapped out - even if they withdrew from Europe and poured it all into the Eastern Front, they were doomed; the Soviets had better cold-weather technology, industrial capacity, manpower capacity, and terrain advantages of a home front. The German position was untenable, utterly untenable. The Soviets were destined to win this, Lend-Lease, or no.
posted by VikingSword at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, our uniforms are pretty terrible.

It is one theory that the side with the worser uniforms always wins. Confederate Gray, Redcoats, US army WWI and II.

But I am not prepared to defend the thinking to the death.

The most overrated of all is Erwin Rommel, who continually got his ass beat getting overextended in ways that were brutally obvious to everyone.


Interesting! First thing that comes to my mind is the advantage Britain had in code-breaking and intelligence. But this bears more investigation.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2010


also, the effect of lend-lease has always been massively overstated in the English literature on the subject.

Also, one of the primary reasons for the overemphasis involves a British gentleman named B.H. Liddell Hart. He wrote a few treatises regarding the use of armor in the interwar period. He had also corresponded with a few German officers in the interwar period.

Immediately after the Second World War, Liddell-Hart wrote a series of books which captured the imagination of the Western World, including the extremely influential The Other Side of the Hill. In these books, Liddell-Hart portrayed the British and American operational art in the interwar years as deficient and depicted himself as a jeremiad in the wilderness calling for combined-arms armored divisions of the type that Guderian and others championed in Germany in the 1930s. He was helped in this by a number of German memoirs which praised him excessively. Liddell-Hart's depiction of the magnificent blitzkrieg did much to build up the idea that the Germans were geniuses at warfare despite losing the war.

However, review of the facts showed a different picture. Beginning in the 1980s with Mearsheimer's Liddell Hart and the Weight of History historians reviewed the record and found that he had distorted the record and his role in it quite significantly.

It was also learned that the German generals in Western captivity had exploited their role and built up the reputation of the German General Staff, (much as they had done after the first war) hoping to retain the influence of the spirit of that body over the writing of history and the position of the West vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Recordings of German officers in captivity indicate that they discussed the best way to effect this. In essence they 'captured' their captors, regaling their interpreters with tales of the glorious battle against the Bolshevik menace which were designed to influence the West. The U.S. Army's Center for Military History put out a highly detailed review of the Eastern Front which was heavily influcened by these officers (see The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture for more details). The image of the incompetent Soviets being constantly whipped by the Wehrmacht dove-tailed with the American's desire to believe that it was the Americans and the British who truly defeated NS-Germany.

This is not to say that the Germans did not have some great military leaders or campaigns--Von Manstein was likely the best operational commander in the 20th Century and his Fall Gelb encirclement plan to destroy the majority of the British and French heavy forces was brilliant, (although helped by the fact that the first plan, basically a conservative repeat of the Schlieffenplan of WWI fame was captured in a plane that crashed behind their lines.

There is a lot more out there--but this is one of the most fascinating subjects of military historiography out there and a must read for understanding the war as a whole. Often the participants of the war are less-than reliable narrators.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The destruction of Army Group Center in 1941--that's an interesting scenario to say the least.

The German position in December 1941 was hugely overextended, yes, but to posit that the Russians were in a position to destroy Army Group Center in 1941 seems pretty ahistorical. The Red Army during Bagration was practically unrecognizable when compared to late 1941. The Soviets had about a million troops in reserve at that point. That's not enough to do what you propose. And when they saw the successes they were having the Soviet forces actually did try to eliminate Army Group Center and the salients near Moscow. Which led to huge lossess at places like Rzhev. The Red Army didn't mostly stop the counteroffensive because they wanted to, they stopped because everybody who could attack was dead.
posted by Justinian at 2:56 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


So the Soviets would need more - much more - time without the Lend-Lease, but time was on their side. It was not on the side of the Germans. The Germans were tapped out - even if they withdrew from Europe and poured it all into the Eastern Front, they were doomed; the Soviets had better cold-weather technology, industrial capacity, manpower capacity, and terrain advantages of a home front. The German position was untenable, utterly untenable. The Soviets were destined to win this, Lend-Lease, or no.

Let me put it this way. On June 22, 1941, the date the Germans invaded, the Soviets had more operational armored vehicles than the rest of the world combined.

And they had the incomparable T-34--the tank upon which every single main battle tank in the world today is based. A funny story was that until the invasion, the Germans were under strict orders to cooperate fully with the Russians under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The Pact included technology inspection and exchange provisions. At some point in late 1940, the Germans became alarmed. The Soviets angrily complained that the Germans were not showing them the best they had in tank technology and were holding back. The Germans drew the correct conclusion--that the Soviets had a far superior tank and thought the Germans must have one too. But the Germans did not. The T-34 was so good that the Germans completely reverse-engineered it and seriously contemplated reequipping their entire force with copied versions of the Soviet machine. Hitler, of course, overruled this course. But the T-34 and its later variants were by far the best main battle tank when taking into account range, exploitation ability, armor, ability to maneuver on any terrain and ease of repair and use.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:57 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


“Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?”

Because a significant proportion of those same people can't seem to get over a war that happened a few years before that.
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's super funny to see people claim that winning Moscow would have done anything other than made the situation worse for the Germans. It was an age old strategy for the Russians. Give you territory - make you fight for it, of course - but give it to you after stripping it of any resources useful to you. Then you have to defend that territory, having gained nothing but square footage. Over and over again. Until you collapse from broken supply lines and inability to defend it all. It's a booby prize. You know what it reminds me of? If you are a chess buff, you'll recognize it as Alekhin's Defence - you lure your opponent by presenting an easy target, so the white keeps attacking until it overextends itself and creates positional weakness subject to devastating counter-attacks.

There's a kind of a un-PC joke my grandfather made, when I, as a wee kid, asked him about the possible war between the Soviets and Red China. He said: "this is what would happen: the Russians pour a huge tank force into China and take a million Chinese soldiers captive. Mao calls up the Russian leader and says: 'ok, so do you surrender?' The Russian laughs and launches deeper into China, taking another million Chinese soldiers captive. Mao calls up: 'ok, how about now, do you surrender?' The Russian laughs again and this time really pours deep into China taking 5-6-10 million Chinese prisoner. When Mao calls up, the Russian Leader doesn't wait - he offers immediately to surrender, as long as Mao takes the 10 million Chinese soldiers back and feeds them himself".

And that joke would be the Chinese doing an Alekhine Defense on the Russians.
posted by VikingSword at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fuck the Wehrmacht

the three monkeys
posted by clavdivs at 2:58 PM on December 2, 2010


The German position in December 1941 was hugely overextended, yes, but to posit that the Russians were in a position to destroy Army Group Center in 1941 seems pretty ahistorical.

It probably could not have been done. But the shave was much closer than has been portrayed in the West. The Germans who were the only ones we talked to about the battle were less than candid about the results.

It took historians like David Glantz to change all of that.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:59 PM on December 2, 2010


Great thread, BTW.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on December 2, 2010


Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?

Because Sun-Tzu was some inscrutable chink and B.H. Liddell-Hart was an effete Brit and probably some kind of deviated prevert.
posted by Ritchie at 3:18 PM on December 2, 2010


Well our army may like Clauswitz and his theories but our organization is based on Napoleon's organization of the Grande Armee. Form corps to companies.

Well the tactical organization is, but the organizational operation of the officer corps is almost universally based on the Prussian Great General Staff model. Everywhere you go, including France. And it is that system of organization that counts.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:24 PM on December 2, 2010


I think the deeper story of the Nazi defeat in WWII is really ideological. The ideology of fascism - the ideology of hate - doomed them in very concrete ways. Think about it: they took a huge percentage of the most productive parts of their society and deliberately destroyed it. By murdering Jews, they deprived themselves of the energy, genius and productive capacities of countless scientists, managers, inventors, and workers in practically every field. It's suicidal. It cost them the A-bomb race. It cost them on practically every front - including spending resources on murdering Jews by the millions. It's madness.

Ideologies based on hate and discrimination are self-defeating. Any society that discriminates against racial minorities suffers a lack of productivity from those communities. Same for discrimination against women. One of the major reasons many Islamic countries suffer economically is because 50% of their population (women) are handicapped in the economy (a fact recognized and expounded upon by Islamic scholars - there was a paper written to that effect by scholars in Egypt, I think, which analyzed the "why" in the dismal economic performance of many states in the ME). Discriminating against gay people handicaps you - whether it's in driving out gay translators, or talented military leaders (a modern day Alexander The Great need to apply to the U.S. military), or scientists backing your military efforts (Alan Turing).

Insofar as you discriminate more, you shall fail. The Nazis, being the worst, handicapped themselves the worst. The Soviets won the war, but are not around any more. We're still here, but insofar as we allow hate and discrimination to guide us in our policies, we will lose.
posted by VikingSword at 3:31 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


But how do you then explain things like the Persian Wars where a large, ethnically-diverse force of Persians and their allies-of-the-moment was defeated by a comparatively homogeneous group of bickering Greeks?
posted by Ritchie at 3:37 PM on December 2, 2010


It's very simple. In the wars that Germany lost, they consistently dominated their opponents at the tactical level and lost only because of the strategic errors made by political leaders and a select few senior commanders who owed their positions mainly due to the incompetence of the civilian leadership. Without the political pull of their patrons, people like Goering, Keitel and Jodl wouldn't have had anywhere NEAR the level of influence over military operations that they had. Much like Stalin, Hitler prized ideological and personal loyalty above professional competence. Man for man, the German Army from Bismark to WWII was the most effective military force in the modern era, by a large margin. They did not have the best equipment in all cases, but they did in many other cases. They certainly were innovative in terms of weapons development and the tactics needed to overcome any technical shortfalls. You simply can't explain away the lopsided ratios of allied soldiers killed for each German soldier killed or the fact that the German officers in the field were extraordinary well-trained leaders of men and field tacticians. The General Staff developed a training philosophy that stressed creative, independent thinking by field commanders, which empowered them to react as needed in a flexible way to circumstance that may not have been forseen by their superiors without having to wait for new orders. Allied Generals would be constantly frustrated by the fact that large prisoner hauls of veteran troops would frequently not include many officers. These officers would then take charge of new German formations of raw recruits and rapidly turn them into effective fighting forces capable of stopping veteran Allied units in their tracks. Anyone who wants to argue that Germany lost its wars on the basis of the quality of its armed forces is simply not an informed student of military history.

There's a famous (if possibly apocryphal) exchange between an American soldier and his German prisoner in Italy that sort of sums up the whole war...

The German had commanded an anti-tank gun set in a narrow river valley where the Allieds had only one approach. He was boasting about his tactical prowess.

"So, if your position was so great," the American asked, "how'd you get captured?"

"I ran out of shells before you ran out of tanks," the German replied.

They were the baddies and this Jew is very happy that they lost, but if Hitler hadn't invaded Russia and had focused his efforts in North Africa to choke off the Suez canal, they would have easily won the war against Britain. What would have happened next is open to conjecture, but I'm guessing they would have rebuilt, refitted and then made a much more robust and prepared attack on the USSR (they came awfully close to beating the Russians as it actually happened).
posted by snottydick at 3:38 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Truth on the ideology VS

I think of the people who starved under 15 years of Stalin's blood orgy and what it would take to compel them to kill for him. All the Germans had to do was not be worse than Stalin, yet they managed to due to their ideology. The ideology which contributed toward unit cohesion also galvinized the world against the Germans.
posted by banal evil at 3:39 PM on December 2, 2010


Just a couple of quick thoughts outside of the Stalingrad dilemma, if one asks why exactly were US Army tacticians so inclined to base their model on the German approach, one needs to look at the situation on the ground in 1939. Germany had managed to build up, from scratch (100,000 in 1935), an army that was capable of not only taking Poland (950,000 men) in five weeks, but also managed to take on Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France against a combined allied force and subsequently walked across the Balkans and Greece, not to mention an expedition into Libya, threatening everything from the Suez Canal to Belfast. All of that happened in a very short time, all prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, in the US, the cavalry was virtually non-existant and training with mock tanks. They had a history of fighting nothing other than low-intensity or pre-industrial conflicts and needed a solution. The headlines in Europe gave them the blitzkrieg which they translated into the combined arms approach and it's all history from there. The US army went from riding horses to an armored force prepared for a European war, not a Russian war, with the USSR based around its tank formations and it's no mystery that a lot of the knowledge employed in those efforts were gleaned from their new German allies.

But for one to think that all American military intellect is based on germanophile admiration is a non-sequitur. They read from a broad range of writers and topics and the war-planning efforts are constantly re-engineered to adapt to the modern world although one has to wait awhile for the Soviet threat to pass. Some ideas take time to change.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:50 PM on December 2, 2010


Hey. At least it was an ethos.
posted by pressF1 at 6:41 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


... simply can't explain away the lopsided ratios of allied soldiers killed for each German soldier killed...

Well, there is an advantage to playing defense.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:47 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to write a book called "Desert Myth" about how the British and the Germans collaborated to pump Rommel up

Ironmouth, you magnificent bastard, I would read your book!
posted by stevis23 at 7:53 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


They read from a broad range of writers and topics

Today I learned that the USMC doctrine is based, in part, on Starship Troopers.

That makes me smile.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:06 PM on December 2, 2010


one needs to look at the situation on the ground in 1939. Germany had managed to build up, from scratch (100,000 in 1935), an army that was capable of not only taking Poland (950,000 men) in five weeks, but also managed to take on Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France against a combined allied force and subsequently walked across the Balkans and Greece, not to mention an expedition into Libya, threatening everything from the Suez Canal to Belfast. All of that happened in a very short time, all prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Exactly. If the Germans had only pressed all the way at Dunkirk, they might have forced a conditional British surrender and won the war... assuming Hitler could resist doing something stupid like invading the Soviets afterward. Taking Moscow in '41 wouldn't have been nearly enough to stop the Soviets, but the elimination of the pocket at Dunkirk could have been a knockout blow to the British, or very close to it.
posted by vorfeed at 8:09 PM on December 2, 2010


War, war never changes.
posted by mapinduzi at 8:28 PM on December 2, 2010


"But we have better tanks and missiles now, total situational awareness, full spectrum dominance ..."

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
posted by mapinduzi at 8:53 PM on December 2, 2010


"You guys do realise that it was the Russians who defeated Germany, right? Actually no, I guess you probably don't...."
Speaking for myself, I do and have for a long time. I've been annoying some of my fellow USians for years pointing this out.

The Russians, and their winters. You'd think they'd have learned from Napoleon's folly. IIRC, wasnt Barbarossa supposed to have started in March 1942 instead of June 1941, but Hitler got impatient? Perhaps it was because he realized he needed the raw materials sooner than he'd expected?

Agree completely that a modern technological war is truly all about the logistics. That's why you don't fight a land war in Asia, eventually your supply lines get too long and either unmanageable or vulnerable. Plus one way or another you run into savage weather.

Along what vorfeed just said, if they had been able to stop after taking much of Europe, they might have been able to avoid having the full might of the rest of the world pitted against them.

If they'd left the Russians alone, that would have saved them most of their troops and energy, and kept their supply lines short. The US might not have been politically able to outright enter that part of the war if Britain had been forced to surrender (although I think fat chance of that with Churchill running things), and with the Japanese attack might have thrown all the weight that way and left a controlled Europe to itself. We didn't exactly come roaring into the conflict in '39 to save the Poles, or in '40 to help the French or British - all friends and allies. There was enormous political pressure on FDR to stay out of it, even in the face of German naval attacks on US shipping. We didnt declare war on Germany until after Pearl Harbor.

Again, all supposition. In any event, Hitler et. al. Were going for world domination, so their egos wouldn't let them just stop and consolidate for a while as part of that objective.

""But we have better tanks and missiles now, total situational awareness, full spectrum dominance ...""

None of that matters if you can't get ammo, fuel and food forward to front-line units. Also, you can't fight a fully mechanized war in a place where the roads suck or are impassable 6 months out of the year. Ammo is really, really heavy, you can't fly enough of it in, especially near a front where your enemy has significant anti-air weapons (which is why we so liberally distributed Stingers to the mujahedeen... oops). Full supply requires trucks, and lots of 'em.

I can only imagine what it would be like to have full satellite overview of a battle where your troops are running out of ammo, can't get enough to resupply, and can't be air evac'd without risking half or more of your choppers... von Clausewitz even would probably be appalled.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:05 PM on December 2, 2010


You guys do realise that it was the Russians who defeated Germany, right? Actually no, I guess you probably don't....

Which suggests we (my USA and your Canada) might as well have stayed out of it completely. Unless we were needed to keep western Europe free. In which case we dropped the moral ball in not pushing back the Russians to their own borders.

As to reality, the Russian victory was at a staggering cost in manpower, which doesn't speak too well of Russian military genius. This while fighting on one front. Really, given her advantages, Russia should have done a whole lot better.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:59 AM on December 3, 2010


In which case we dropped the moral ball in not pushing back the Russians to their own borders.

Us and what army? They would have cleaned our clock.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 AM on December 3, 2010


Man for man, the German Army from Bismark to WWII was the most effective military force in the modern era, by a large margin.

I'm reminded of General Giap . . .

American Col.: "You know, you never beat us in a battle.”

Giap: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”
posted by Ironmouth at 7:58 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


if Hitler hadn't invaded Russia and had focused his efforts in North Africa to choke off the Suez canal, they would have easily won the war against Britain.

Exactly. If the Germans had only pressed all the way at Dunkirk, they might have forced a conditional British surrender and won the war...

Along what vorfeed just said, if they had been able to stop after taking much of Europe, they might have been able to avoid having the full might of the rest of the world pitted against them.


Well, these are common misconceptions, for a number of reasons that I'll try to explain.

I really don't see how even the total destruction of the BEF would have resulted in a British surrender; Germany had no way to invade across the Channel.

Something that many people downplay is the importance of making sure your troops have supplies; they need ammunition and gasoline, and food, and (especially in the desert) water. The amount of German troops available in North Africa was entirely a function of supply. All supplies were carried in Italian merchant marine bottoms, which is one limiting factor. The other limiting factor is that once those supplies arrived at a port (and there were not many in North Africa, during World War II, hence why everybody was so eager to hold/take Tobruk) is that they had to be carried to the troops. During World War II, the next most efficient way to carry these supplies to your troops was rail, however North Africa was not a heavily built up area, so the rail network was not incredible. Now the rails don't always run to where you want to fight, so now you have to load everything in trucks. The German/Italian motor pool was not enormous, and it turns out that using gasoline to carry gasoline over the desert is incredibly inefficient, because it's burning the very precious stuff that you're trying to build up. This is why Rommel's bosses kept telling him to stay still; it was not because they were jealous of his awesomeness.

Here's the thing about Germany's war. For Germany, World War II was all about genocide and invading the Soviet Union. Hitler reasoned that you needed a certain amount of arable land for each German, and the only place he could get it was over there in the Soviet Union, and if people were using it, well, too bad for them. Note that economically, Hitler's conquest of a big chunk Europe put him in a worse place than before: now he was obliged to feed and supply everybody! This is one of the reasons he was swiftly driven to invade the Ukraine. (It turned into a vicious tug-of-war between "Let them starve! No German will eat less than a Pole." "Uh, so there's not enough food to keep everybody working, and we're already running into massive labor shortages ...")

We didnt declare war on Germany until after Pearl Harbor.


Germany declared war on us.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:00 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The German had commanded an anti-tank gun set in a narrow river valley where the Allieds had only one approach. He was boasting about his tactical prowess.

"So, if your position was so great," the American asked, "how'd you get captured?"

"I ran out of shells before you ran out of tanks," the German replied.


I once saw a chart of gold reserves in 1939. US and Britain had multiples and multiples of Germany's puny stockpile.

You can be great tactically all you want--I'll take the strategic edge every time.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:02 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing about Germany's war. For Germany, World War II was all about genocide and invading the Soviet Union. Hitler reasoned that you needed a certain amount of arable land for each German, and the only place he could get it was over there in the Soviet Union, and if people were using it, well, too bad for them. Note that economically, Hitler's conquest of a big chunk Europe put him in a worse place than before: now he was obliged to feed and supply everybody! This is one of the reasons he was swiftly driven to invade the Ukraine. (It turned into a vicious tug-of-war between "Let them starve! No German will eat less than a Pole." "Uh, so there's not enough food to keep everybody working, and we're already running into massive labor shortages ...")

Hitler's Second Book.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2010


if Hitler hadn't invaded Russia and had focused his efforts in North Africa to choke off the Suez canal, they would have easily won the war against Britain

I must disagree. How? Britain could not be invaded, its air force was able to defeat the Germans, and the Germans had zero surface navy. They couldn't get gas to North Africa, the British could.

Your views reflect the very errors the Germans made, they were an economic pygmy who took on giants, with an army that was largely supplied by draft horses. The image of the shiny German blitzkrieg is a propaganda coup, but it did not represent the reality that the vast majority of the German Army was infantry which walked into Russia just as Napoleon's Army did in 1812. In the close in spaces of Poland and Western Europe, Germany had numerical advantages and the tanks could compensate. In the vast spaces of Russia, the last four years of the war are essentially a story of the Russians surrounding German foot soldiers and sending them back East.

Strategically, they were complete asses, from the top down, including the generals, and that goes back to Ludendorff and Hindenburg. They attacked enemies far more powerful than themselves and managed to create huge coalitions--against themselves. They continually allied with weaker powers and spent millions propping them up. There's just no comparison here. They were idiots.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Going back to the thing about taking Moscow.. there is a huge difference between 1812 and 1940s, in the latter case Moscow was a crucially important transportation hub, especially for rail. The loss would be tremendously damaging, although not a complete defeat.

The battle for Moscow, as well as for Stalingrad, could have been decisive for the course of the war. In the latter case, Japan made a decision to invade if Stalingrad failed. That would mean that fresh, trained eastern troops would not be available for battle of Moscow. Through 43-5 wehrmaht had most of their best divisions tied up in the east. If they were freed up at any point in 42-43, that might have prompted allies to sue for peace or it could devolve into enpasse, something akin to the cold war. It would be too risky and expensive to invade, and Germany could not in Britain.

The atomic bomb would not necessarily decide things, either, the circumstances would be far different from Japan. The US only had 3-4 bombs iirc. If German industry was freed from the strain of eastern war, they would have the same program in development, as well. For the US, it would be a difficult decision: what if you drop 4 bombs and that's not enough and Germany creates their own bomb and retaliates? Without missiles it's also a matter of the bomber getting through to the right target.
posted by rainy at 8:59 AM on December 3, 2010


But we have better tanks and missiles now, total situational awareness, full spectrum dominance ...

Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks...

BTW, the latest "game changer" in Afghanistan is the XM-25 "smart gun", which is basically the 20mm grenade launcher component of the cancelled OICW project and a very cool, sci-fi kind of weapon, very "Aliens", which will probably change squat.
posted by Artw at 9:05 AM on December 3, 2010


they were an economic pygmy who took on giants, with an army that was largely supplied by draft horses

Surely that is what makes them impressive.
posted by Catfry at 9:19 AM on December 3, 2010


Impressive in a being stupid fuckers who got a lot of people killed kind of way.
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's also naive to think that Stalin would be fine because he had plenty of resources stashed away. A battle group of wwII was a cohesive structure that needed a lot of things to work together well. Well-trained soldiers, low- and mid-level command, communication, food, ammunition, clothes, repair services, gasoline, air support. If you run short of just one thing, it can be a disaster.

By the way, Churchill had an interesting perspective (although it's somewhat self-serving so should be taken with a grain of salt) on astounding success of Germany in the beginning of war. He said that contemporary war industry needs 4 years to build up full capacity, in first 2 years you get almost nothing, in 3rd year you get maybe 70% of full capacity and in 4th year only you get 100%. Therefore, if you start ahead of your enemies by 1-2 years, even if they're better developed, it's almost inevitable that you'll wipe them out. His point is that's what happened in France and almost happened in Soviet Union, and it had little to do with military genius; and once allies' war industry was built up, the engagements were evenly matched.
posted by rainy at 9:27 AM on December 3, 2010


I don't think it was that stupid of them, firstly, they had all of their resources and armies in the center of europe while the US had them an ocean away. Getting stuff across isn't easy. Secondly, you might even argue that it was Japan who lost the war for Germany. If I remember right, Hitler was aghast when he learned of Pearl Harbor and before that he counted heavily on US staying out of direct fight, and that's something he could reasonably believe was possible.
posted by rainy at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2010


That said, I agree that the professional warrior ethos is highly problematic... but in the States, at least, this comes from post-Vietnam politics, not "an admiration of the Wehrmacht".

I agree that it doesn't come from an admiration for the Wehrmacht, but it also doesn't come from post-Vietnam politics. See, for instance, Gen. MacArthur's Thayer Award Address in 1962 to the Corps of Cadets at West Point doesn't come from post-Vietnam politics:

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds. But serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war guardians, as its lifeguards from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiators in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government. Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.

These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.

You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the Nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds.

posted by Jahaza at 9:37 AM on December 3, 2010


Why do people have a fixation with the German military when they haven’t won a war since 1871?

Because the USA hasn't won a war since 1945?
posted by cell divide at 9:38 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the latter case, Japan made a decision to invade if Stalingrad failed. That would mean that fresh, trained eastern troops would not be available for battle of Moscow.

I'm not sure where you're getting that: if the invasion of Stalingrad (July 1942-Feb 1943) failed, Japan would invade, tying up troops for the battle of Moscow (October 1941 - January 1942).

If German industry was freed from the strain of eastern war, they would have the same program in development, as well. For the US, it would be a difficult decision: what if you drop 4 bombs and that's not enough and Germany creates their own bomb and retaliates?

I don't think this really takes into account the full economic realities of World War II Germany. The German economy lurched from potential disaster to potential disaster, with never enough manpower or raw material. People were recognizing that the war was lost, and shooting themselves as early as 1943. This was exacerbated by the fief-like nature of the Nazi government; there were something like three different atomic bomb projects! And none of them had priority, because when they asked in 1941, the Nazi government recognized that creating the atomic bomb would take a long time and would be done after the war was over, one way or another. Even the invasion of the rest of Europe placed an enormous amount of strain on the German economy. Please read Tooze.

If I remember right, Hitler was aghast when he learned of Pearl Harbor and before that he counted heavily on US staying out of direct fight, and that's something he could reasonably believe was possible.

That certainly doesn't seem to be what Hitler was saying when he declared war on the United States first.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2010


Comrade_robot: sorry I got that out of order.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:21 AM on December 3, 2010


Comrade_robot: sorry, I messed up about Moscow/Stalingrad, what would happen is that Germany could mount a second offensive against Moscow, win battle of Kursk, etc, if Japan was involved after Stalingrad.

You're forgetting just how much resources were tied up in the East. This has a snow-ball effect: you can't commit the same resources to r&d, against Britain, to improve V2 design and targeting abilities, improvement of jet fighters, build more submarines and better air defence. But if there's no eastern front, suddenly you can do all of those things.

The soviet union had astounding losses in trained soldiers, low and mid-level command in 41-43. It was in a very difficult position, as well. It could make up for some losses but you just can't train good command staff and soldiers in a couple of months and put them up against veterans.
posted by rainy at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2010


Actually, I got totally confused about Stalingrad/Japan there.. The Soviets found out that Japan was not attacking before battle of Moscow, and that let them commit fresh (and trained!) troops from the East, which were essential for success in that battle.
posted by rainy at 10:42 AM on December 3, 2010


Yeah, in all this revisionist theorizing, people really are not paying attention to what exactly the German situation was - their industrial capacity was simply not a match for their military ambitions. The other aspect, which is continually glossed over, is that the Soviets really did have better armor - by far - than the Germans did for a confrontation on their soil, it wasn't merely superior cold-weather performance, but actual vast quantitative advantages. The Japanese entering from the East was a big fear of Stalin's (which is why he had fresh troops socked away in the far East), but it also reflected his lack of full understanding of the Japanese situation (and a distrust of his own excellent intelligence information in Tokyo, see Sorge). Japan was preoccupied in China, but more importantly saw Asia as the prize that needed to be obtained before the U.S. awoke. Ultimately, Japan was not going to spend military resources on picking a fight with the Soviets, when they had little to gain there, and had a full plate with Asia and the U.S. - to them, the fight with the U.S. was not a choice, they saw it as inevitable and struck early hoping for a crippling blow to buy enough time; of course as we know, it didn't work. It was the Nazis and the Soviets left to each other, and the Nazis were doomed (of course, there was competition for the worst bungler between Stalin and Hitler, with perhaps Hitler finally claiming the prize for being the worse bungler).
posted by VikingSword at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2010


I agree that it doesn't come from an admiration for the Wehrmacht, but it also doesn't come from post-Vietnam politics. See, for instance, Gen. MacArthur's Thayer Award Address in 1962 to the Corps of Cadets at West Point doesn't come from post-Vietnam politics:

There's a huge difference between the treatment of West Point and the rest of the military... or, at least, there used to be. The problem is not the mere existence of a professional officer class -- nearly every nation has this, universal service or not. The problem is that the rest of the military has also become a tribe apart, rather than a collection of civilians called to service, and that does come from Vietnam.
posted by vorfeed at 10:54 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


you just can't train good command staff and soldiers in a couple of months

True enough, and this was exacerbated perhaps Stalin's biggest idiocy - the decimation of his own officers based on purely political paranoia. But... what is missed here is the tremendous bench depth the Soviets really had not just at the top, but throughout, thanks in large part to Zhukov, who could be said to be the single most important person for Soviet victory in WWII.

From the Zhukov link:

"Zhukov had deployed ingenious underwater bridges at Nomonhan, bridges that would take the Germans by surprise[8] later in the Eastern Front. The Soviet Army would replace their fireprone gasoline powered BT-tanks with diesel engines; and the lessons learned from the Mongolian plains would be incorporated into future Soviet tank armor, mobility, and main guns, leading directly into the development of the new T-34 medium tank.[8] At the end of the campaign, combat experienced men were dispatched to units which had not seen combat, where their skills could be shared.[9] Zhukov would later write that is was no accident that Soviet units that had been blooded at Nomonhan, and which were later transferred to the German front, would fight them so well![9]
For this operation Zhukov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Outside of the Soviet Union, however, this battle remained little-known, as by this time World War II had begun. Zhukov's pioneering use of mobile armour went unheeded by the West, and in consequence the German Blitzkrieg against France in 1940 came as a great surprise. However, Zhukov had been vindicated, as he had always insisted, actual combat at Nomonhan 1939 had given him the experience needed to fight the Germans.[10]
"
posted by VikingSword at 11:01 AM on December 3, 2010


VikingSword: it's true that T34 was much better than German armor, but this in itself does not win the war. T34 was far from invincible, just look at T34 losses even in 44 and 45.
posted by rainy at 11:05 AM on December 3, 2010


VikingSword: to be fair, Hitler also "clean up" the army, which "inspired" Stalin to do the same. Stalin was not well liked by quite a lot of people (for a good reason). If he did not decimate the army, he may have had a coup on his hands well before the 40s, or could get quietly assassinated.
posted by rainy at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2010


The German decision to invade the USSR when it did was partly based on the economic realities above: Stalin had switched to complete war mobilization at a very rapid pace. Every day that you wait to attack makes them better prepared.

The US only had 3-4 bombs iirc.
The US stockpile was growing rapidly after the infrastructure was set up (110 bombs by 1948). The bluff that worked on Japan may just as well have worked on everyone else.

If German industry was freed from the strain of eastern war, they would have the same program in development, as well. For the US, it would be a difficult decision: what if you drop 4 bombs and that's not enough and Germany creates their own bomb and retaliates? Without missiles it's also a matter of the bomber getting through to the right target.
The facilities to enrich uranium are large, expensive, and fragile; once it was realized that Germany was doing so in quantity they'd have been air targets. It worked for the US because we were remote, and for the USSR because we didn't want another war (and because they had a spy ring in Manhattan).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2010


The facilities to enrich uranium are large, expensive, and fragile; once it was realized that Germany was doing so in quantity they'd have been air targets. It worked for the US because we were remote, and for the USSR because we didn't want another war (and because they had a spy ring in Manhattan).

Yes, but that assumes we'd find out about it soon enough and even if we did, Germany would concentrate huge resources on protecting or moving and hiding them. It's also not clear if US would not rather agree to peace than risk even a fairly small chance of an all-out nuclear war even if Germany did not yet have bombs at the time, because once you start dropping them, you know the other side will retaliate if it ever gets the ability. With Japan it was different because they were defeated one way or the other.

I'm just saying it's not at all certain that a-bomb would decide the war in that case, although it might have.
posted by rainy at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2010


I'd like to also suggest that even und the most favorable conditions, even if they had not attacked Russia and the war had paused for a consolidation of Europe, there is absolutely no way the Germans could have produced nuclear weapons before 1945. They didn't have the industrial base - how much electricity did Oak Ridge use? I'd imagine it was comparable to Germany's entire generating capacity at the time. Also, where would they have gotten enough uranium ore, and how would they have shipped it in? There's also the aforementioned brain drain of scientists, both Jewish and not, which would have frustrated them.

But finally, aside from the tremendous resources and brainpower available to the US, the Manhattan project had one more overwhelming advantage: it was almost completely out of range of Axis attacks of any kind. Even the Hanford site would have required a major and daring attack by the Japanese Navy's carrier forces, assuming they knew about it, and those carriers were, um, a little busy at the time. Being able to work unmolested by direct bombardment is something the Germans would never have had.

On preview: yes to meat robot and rainy.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:28 AM on December 3, 2010


There's a huge difference between the treatment of West Point and the rest of the military... or, at least, there used to be. The problem is not the mere existence of a professional officer class -- nearly every nation has this, universal service or not. The problem is that the rest of the military has also become a tribe apart, rather than a collection of civilians called to service, and that does come from Vietnam.

Did you read the whole speech? It's not limited to West Point graduates:

Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.
...
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them [That is, American soldiers in general--Jahaza]: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.


That the military constitutes a class apart is a fact of history that didn't change after the Vietnam war. See for instance Schlessinger here quoting Tocqueville. Perhaps the acknowledgement of that fact (including within the military) became more common, but that's not your point, and is, rather, opposed to it.
posted by Jahaza at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2010


I really don't see how even the total destruction of the BEF would have resulted in a British surrender; Germany had no way to invade across the Channel.

True, but conditional surrender is a political act. The British War Cabinet had discussed the possibility of surrender before the rescue at Dunkirk; while they did vote against it, the loss of the BEF might have turned public opinion. A demoralized Britain might have sued for peace during the Blitz, for instance.

I don't think German victory in WWII was all that likely, but it was certainly possible given different choices on their part. Success in war doesn't always follow economics.
posted by vorfeed at 11:46 AM on December 3, 2010


zoogleplex: they didn't really have to get it done before 45. If they were reasonably close in 45 or even if US thought they might be, it'd be a hard choice for the US. With a-bombs, Germany will not risk invasion of the UK, and can't invade the US, of course. If US does not attack, UK and US are safe, but if US does attack, it must be absolutely certain that it will get Germany to surrender. That's a tangible risk, and on the up side the US gets to liberate Europe and Soviet Union (if it was taken over by then).
posted by rainy at 11:51 AM on December 3, 2010


That the military constitutes a class apart is a fact of history that didn't change after the Vietnam war. See for instance Schlessinger here quoting Tocqueville. Perhaps the acknowledgement of that fact (including within the military) became more common, but that's not your point, and is, rather, opposed to it.

My point isn't that the military was never viewed as "a class apart". My point is that membership in that class has changed significantly since Vietnam, in ways which bring us closer to the professional warrior ethos I was referring to.

When MacArthur said "Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light", he wasn't just referring to an unrepresentative group of professional volunteers. He was also referring to ordinary Americans, called to war. There's a difference, there, and one which matters; the distinction between Americans-as-warriors and The American Warrior marks a major shift in both policy and public opinion post-Vietnam.
posted by vorfeed at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2010


If German industry was freed from the strain of eastern war, they would have the same program in development, as well.

Unfortunately, the facts don't support this interpretation. Hitler slowed A-bomb research early on--it was "Jewish science."

Listen, the Germans were beat before they started. Their goal in the Second World War was the complete ownership of the Soviet Union between the lines Archangel to Astrakhan and the complete subjugation of its populace. The attack on France, the Battle of Britain, the North African theater, these were all part of the plan to obtain the A-A line as it was known. The Germans wanted their rear clear to take the Soviet Union.

The more we look at this, the more we see that the Germans were fools. They hastily built up a less-than-complete war machine that was not mechanized enough for the task and got the entire world involved against them in their battle. They underestimated vastly their enemies and overestimated their ability to carry out their goals.

Don't believe me? Scoreboard.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:26 PM on December 3, 2010


It could make up for some losses but you just can't train good command staff and soldiers in a couple of months and put them up against veterans.

It isn't like this problem didn't affect the Germans, who were engaged in the most massive military operation ever undertaken. They also faced the same problems.

And in actuality, the Soviets did do this in a few months, the Battle of Moscow being the best example. They threw anyone and everyone into the line. Army Group Center, the largest formation the German Army ever deployed, never again went on the offensive. Ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:29 PM on December 3, 2010


if one asks why exactly were US Army tacticians so inclined to base their model on the German approach, one needs to look at the situation on the ground in 1939. Germany had managed to build up, from scratch (100,000 in 1935), an army that was capable of not only taking Poland (950,000 men) in five weeks, but also managed to take on Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France against a combined allied force and subsequently walked across the Balkans and Greece, not to mention an expedition into Libya, threatening everything from the Suez Canal to Belfast. All of that happened in a very short time, all prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union.

I think US army tacticians based their approach on the German model because it is a better fit for our resources and skills than the Soviet approach. Not because it is inherently better.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2010


But if there's no eastern front, suddenly you can do all of those things.


Just to reiterate, the entire purpose of the war was the Eastern Front. The whole kit and kaboodle. Read the Zweites Buch. He never deviated from it. Hitler's Table Talk is also instructive in this regard.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:33 PM on December 3, 2010


It's the uniforms.

For the reenactor on your Christmas list.


Christ, all that wool. How could you possibly walk around in all wool like that.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2010


Related, from Paranoid Time:

Sickles and Hammers

Fascists
posted by Ironmouth at 1:54 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think US army tacticians based their approach on the German model because it is a better fit for our resources and skills than the Soviet approach. Not because it is inherently better.

Critical point. Many here and elsewhere make the point that Germans/Westerners/Whoever are better tactically, because they had smaller casualties against their opponents who frequently had huge casualties (Soviets). This is a complete and utter misunderstanding and a terrible metric. What they don't understand, and which was the point of Gen. Giap's response ("we lost all the battles, but that was irrelevant") is that the ultimate game is strategic and tactics are always subordinate.

Take this example: the Iranians used tens of thousands of teenagers who were either unarmed or barely armed to storm across minefields. Countless numbers of them perished. But so what - it didn't mean the Iraqis had superior tactics - it meant that the Iranians had a resource, very cheap manpower which they could sacrifice in order to achieve deeper goals of clearing minefields across which then the regular Iranian forces swarmed. The idea was very simple: we have a ton of young volunteers, we have not enough weapons to arm them in any case and we have no other means to clear these minefields, so the logical use of the cards in our hands is to sacrifice the volunteers... this is not incompetence, this is highly efficient use of the resources at hand. It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't "inferior tactics" - it was an excellent use of their comparative advantage of superior manpower coupled with lack of arms. The same principles were employed by the Soviets in WWII, or the Vietnamese against the French/Americans or countless other examples - disparity of casualties is not proof of inferiority/superiority of tactics, it reflects different resource configurations. In fact, when you don't adjust your tactics to the situation, you will lose - another famous example is Mao's takeover of China. Initially the Communists in China were advised by Russians who guided them in conventional conflicts with standard force formations. The Chinese Communists got their butts kicked. Then Mao abandoned that completely, and decided on totally different tactics of guerilla warfare, and achieved victory - maybe Mao's fighters didn't do sexy field formations with heavy tanks, but they were vastly superior strategically. Their tactics were subordinate to their strategic planning.

Same here. You must look deeper into the question of German tactics to evaluate them - did they ultimately help achieve the strategic objectives. And U.S. forces have a certain resource configuration and a political environment that makes some, but not other posture and tactics make sense. We can't emulate the Soviets with high-body count tactics - because we'll lose, as we did in Vietnam. We must conform our tactics to our strategic objectives and resource configuration. And forget body count as a metric of tactical prowess - it's stupid.
posted by VikingSword at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with Ironmouth, pretty much. They miscalculated their own capability and that of the rest of the world to fight back. This hubris unfortunately resulted in many millions dead, acceleration of nuclear weaponization, and a whole lot of very uncomfortable, difficult political situations. We are very much all still living in the aftermath of that war, over 60 years later, with some of the direct effects still unresolved.

As far as the US military considering itself a class apart like the Prussians, I don't buy it, even with the changes after Vietnam. The Prussian officers were the actual aristocracy, weren't they? Part of the lordly rulership of their country? The US military officer corps isn't composed of members of the landed gentry in that particular way, though it could be argued that quite a few of them come from an upper-class background, I suppose, and there are certainly some who come from multi generation military families. But even with that, most by far are regular Americans, serving for a variety of reasons. Most by far don't go career, and those that do are still sworn to defend the Constitution and obey the CIC, and they're serious about it, as far as I can see. Those that leave the service are once again regular Americans and go back to mostly regular American lives.

I think we've got a lot more to fear from what you might call our actual nascent aristocracy, the corporate and industrial side of the equation and its ever-expanding ability to essentially buy the Congress and the courts. They have a lot more influence over the policies that fund and equip the military and send them out to fight than we voting taxpayers do.

"Christ, all that wool. How could you possibly walk around in all wool like that."

Well, if your main objective is to invade Russia, it makes sense. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2010


Ironmouth: When I say 'no eastern front' I mean if Soviet Union was defeated in 41.

Basically, mechanization wasn't that important. It was not a problem for Germany in Poland, or in France, or in 41-42 in the East. They could get the infantry and tanks to the right battles. The only problem was winning them.

Germany looked at the Finnish (Winter) war and at how easily France was run over. It was pretty reasonable to suggest that Soviet Union would not be much harder to defeat. It was well known that Stalin is mismanaging agriculture, industry and many other things. Germany did not anticipate that Russian soldiers will be willing to fight despite incredibly heavy losses and would support Stalin despite his apparent blunders, but it was not easy to foresee that. If someone told you in '40 how much losses Soviet Union would sustain in 41 and 42, most reasonable people would say it will collapse.

I don't think Hitler minded that nuclear research was jewish science, he didn't mind it in principle or he would not allow it to begin in the first place. He saw eastern front as a much higher priority and he was right.
posted by rainy at 2:20 PM on December 3, 2010


"He saw eastern front as a much higher priority and he was right."

In light of the results, history seems to disagree.

Never underestimate the ferocity of people defending their own homes.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:45 PM on December 3, 2010


No, I mean after the invasion has already taken place.
posted by rainy at 2:54 PM on December 3, 2010


Basically, mechanization wasn't that important. It was not a problem for Germany in Poland, or in France, or in 41-42 in the East. They could get the infantry and tanks to the right battles. The only problem was winning them.

The Soviet Union was the largest country in the world. I don't see how one could say that. More importantly, the biggest problem the Germans faced was getting their infantry caught up with their armored spearheads.

You have your facts all wrong. 1941, they got their asses handed to them in the end because they lacked mechanization (their horses all died) and lacked winterized mechanization.

The Germans were idiots, dude, you just need to look at the facts. This stuff is part and parcel of what my Masters is in, and I have never read a single source that claimed that mechanization wasn't a gigantic problem for the German Army throughout the war.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:11 PM on December 3, 2010


I don't think Hitler minded that nuclear research was jewish science

He literally said that.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:12 PM on December 3, 2010


Germany did not anticipate that Russian soldiers will be willing to fight despite incredibly heavy losses and would support Stalin despite his apparent blunders, but it was not easy to foresee that.

Huh? The German army was engaging in a genocidal war of extermination over Untermenschen and they were surprised that the Russians wouldn't support Stalin? This makes no sense whatsoever. Not only that, but it is the job of planners to anticipate the worst case scenario. Not only that, but I have seen no sources to support that German planners did not anticipate that Russian soldiers would not fight. Not the Marcks Plan, the Lossberg Study, Griffenberg's plan or Halder's ridiculous OKH plan. None said the enemy wouldn't fight. How could you make such a plan, it is tantamount to suicide. You must assume an armed enemy will fight you, especially if you are planning a war of extermination, which is what Barbarossa was envisioned as and what occurred.

If you could come up with some cites, that would help.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on December 3, 2010


The astonishing part is not that the Soviets fought, but just how dunderheaded/evil the Nazis had to be to make the Soviets fight as hard as they did.

Some facts. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, he had a unique opportunity to be a liberator to many republics which were either forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, or where Communist depredations were so bad, that the population would seeming support just about any "liberator".

The Baltic republics were basically annexed by the Soviet Union, and lost their brief interwar independence. As you can imagine, the resentment toward the Soviets was immense. Hence many joined in various support formations on the Nazi side. When the Germans entered Ukraine, they were greeted by bread and salt in gratitude by many ordinary Ukrainians who survived Stalin's agri-holocaust. There were whole Soviet armies which switched sides and fought on the side of the Germans.

So what did the Nazis do? They proceeded to exterminate Jews in all those locations, mistreat the peasants, requisition their food, inflict savage collective punishment for external guerilla activity, mistreat Soviet prisoners of war to such inhuman levels that it caused even other prisoners to be aghast. Soon enough, what could have been a golden opportunity to spread mutiny throughout the Soviet Union, turned into a savage-to-the-death fight such that ordinary citizens would defend single rooms in a single building to their deaths (Stalingrad).

Nazis had to be quite the monsters to make people be willing to fight and die under the red flag.

As I said before: at their core, the Nazis lost due to their inhuman ideology of hate. They set the whole world against themselves, and lost any chance at a rational use of their own human resources (their own citizens of Jewish ancestry etc.). Their ideology kept them blind ("Jewish science"), and it deprived them of huge numbers of potential allies. Hate: it's bad for you.
posted by VikingSword at 3:43 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


And speaking of discrimination in your own population being a negative for your overall performance, we have U.S. military heads still willing to go along an ideology of hate toward gay people:

"3 military chiefs oppose 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal
The heads of the Marines, Air Force and Army say allowing homosexuals to serve openly could cause disruption. The Navy chief, however, sees little problem with the change and recommends repeal."


Not exactly stellar students of history, these chiefs - for all that studying of military history, it seems hate still blinds them.

We have a long way to go before our military is "the best it can be" - and I don't know which aspects of the German military these guys are modeling, but I think it's pretty clear they have not absorbed the ultimate lesson: hate and discrimination is destructive... it didn't work for the Germans, and won't work for us.
posted by VikingSword at 3:56 PM on December 3, 2010


Ironmouth: Actually, that's precisely why the Germans thought the Soviets would not show resolve in their defense. The Untermensch thing. Think back to WWI: the revolution happened due to enormous losses on German front, and that's precisely what happened at the beginning of WWII, except that losses were vastly greater. Russia had thrown out 400 years of tradition to rebel against the czar who had a lot less reasons to be disliked than Stalin. Hitler is widely quoted as telling his top commanders than the Soviets will collapse like a rotten house once they step in. It wasn't a crazy idea - Poland and France collapsed quickly and both had very respectable armies, and Russians had a lot more reasons to hate Stalin than those two countries their respective governments.

Hitler said a lot of things, for instance he said that at that point (i.e. 20th century), race is no longer relevant because neither Germanic nor Jewish races are pure anyway. He'd agree to put in resources into an h-bomb in a heartbeat if it was cheaper and quicker and made more sense strategically at that point.

They didn't "have their asses handed to them" in 41. Battle of Moscow was very closely fought and if you look at casualties on both sides, in lives and armor, you'll quickly see that it wasn't a matter of transportation but a matter of Soviets being able to absorb much higher losses. Soviet Union had roughly 150 million people at the time, and Germany ~80 million.

If that still doesn't convince you, consider that Germans had no problem with transportation in Poland, France and battles leading up to Moscow. They were able to encircle huge armies with their tank groups and force them to surrender. That was done with tanks and infantry, and the Soviets fought the war with tanks and infantry, as well.
posted by rainy at 4:53 PM on December 3, 2010


What seems to be missed in the discussion of Eastern vs. Western fronts in WWII is the massive air-defense campaign required to fend off Allied bombing raids. While these were eventually proven to be ineffectual against military production, the misery inflicted upon German society was tremendous, and demanded men and materiel that could have turned the tide in the East.

Also, once the Allies had found their way into Italy, and set up bases for their heavy bombers there, it really was all over. Technical advances had suddenly put the U-boats at a severe disadvantage (the Catalina and its radar), and without naval mastery of the English Channel or the Mediterranean, D-Day would have happened in the south of France or the easter Med, either the Dalmatian coast or Greece.

So, without the US, or without the Russians, the Germans inevitably faced defeat... but they may have held out for as long as '49 or '50... this would result in economic ruin in the US, mass starvation in England, and a complete destruction and depopulation of Russian society west of the Urals, none of which would be good things. So it's lucky that Monty, Patton and Zhukov were around when they were, backed up by the administrative genius of Ike and Uncle Joe.*

So, in conclusion - Girls, stop fighting, you're both pretty.

(*Stalin prepared for the war like an idiot, executing his top aircraft designers for advocating fighters and bombers instead of '30s-era ground attack craft, executing generals and intellectuals at whim, killing off tens of millions of potential troops in bizzarre political pogroms and failed agricultural experiments... but once war had arrived, his paranoid ruthlessness was a bookend for Churchill's clever doggedness, and Roosevelt's confident decisiveness.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:19 PM on December 3, 2010


The battle for Moscow, as well as for Stalingrad, could have been decisive for the course of the war. In the latter case, Japan made a decision to invade if Stalingrad failed. That would mean that fresh, trained eastern troops would not be available for battle of Moscow.

Actually, the Red Army was continually counter-attacking from June 1941 onwards. There were counter-attacks at Kelme, Raseinai, Grodno, and Dubno in late June, Sol'tsy, Lepel', Bobruisk, and Kiev in July, Staraia Russa, Smolensk, and Kiev in August, Smolensk, El'nia, and Roslavl' in September, and a counterstroke at Kalinin in October. The Germans were stopped before the Siberian troops arrived (and the number of Siberian troops which were transferred is often exaggerated.) The Siberian troops were used in the counterattacks, but Stavka saved Moscow by raising, fielding, and employing ten reserve armies. Glantz believes that if the Germans had actually reached Moscow, Stalin would have assigned one or more of his reserve armies to fight and die in its defense, resulting in the same dilemma that Sixth Army faced in Stalingrad a year later. Even had it captured Moscow, the Wehrmacht was still not equipped to winter in the city.


Through 43-5 wehrmaht had most of their best divisions tied up in the east. If they were freed up at any point in 42-43, that might have prompted allies to sue for peace or it could devolve into enpasse, something akin to the cold war. It would be too risky and expensive to invade, and Germany could not in Britain.

This is uncomfortably close to "Zee Germans would haff won because zey had zee will to power! The Allies would surrender bceause ... uh ... they ... I'm not ... well, eventually they would have gotten tired of bombing everything." At the end of May 1940, London had already decided to reject any offer of a negotiated peace, in hope of American backing.

The atomic bomb would not necessarily decide things, either, the circumstances would be far different from Japan. The US only had 3-4 bombs iirc. If German industry was freed from the strain of eastern war, they would have the same program in development, as well. For the US, it would be a difficult decision: what if you drop 4 bombs and that's not enough and Germany creates their own bomb and retaliates? Without missiles it's also a matter of the bomber getting through to the right target. It's also not clear if US would not rather agree to peace than risk even a fairly small chance of an all-out nuclear war even if Germany did not yet have bombs at the time, because once you start dropping them, you know the other side will retaliate if it ever gets the ability. With Japan it was different because they were defeated one way or the other.

No, they would not. Historically, the Germans were nowhere close to a nuclear weapon. This is because nuclear weapons are extremely expensive, and at the time were kind of a pipe dream. I have no idea where you get this idea that the Allies would build an atomic weapon and not deploy it; the entire B-29 program shows that the Allies fully intended to deploy nuclear bombs even should Britain fall. Further, even in magical atomic fairies gave Hitler a nuclear bomb, he had no way to deliver it, because Germany did not have a strategic bomber or missile capable of reaching the United States.

The entire point of the American atomic bomb program was that they assumed that the Germans would try to develop one, and they had to make some and drop them on Germany first! Your posts contain a great deal of "And then the Allies would surrender because ... they ... uh ... lack zee vill to power!!!!"

You're forgetting just how much resources were tied up in the East. This has a snow-ball effect: you can't commit the same resources to r&d, against Britain, to improve V2 design and targeting abilities, improvement of jet fighters, build more submarines and better air defence. But if there's no eastern front, suddenly you can do all of those things.

What I think is clear is that you do not fully understand the enormous economic trouble in which Germany began the war. This trouble only deepened as the war continued, even after the successful conquest of a giant chunk of Europe. Even the territory that Germany had conquered in 1940 was nothing in comparison to what America gave to Britain. It took four times as many workers to make a German aircraft in France as it did to make the same aircraft in Germany. Germany was short of oil, rubber, and copper (and submarines required a lot of rubber and copper!) Germany ran on coal, but all of the coal workers were being conscripted, and in any case, many countries in Europe depended on imported coal ... from Britain. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, and France all were net importers of coal, and much as with aircraft production, coal miners in occupied countries didn't really want to work very hard for Germany, and doubly so if they were going to be starved to death to feed Germans. Everybody wanted a large chunk of the steel production, but you needed coal to make steel too!
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:36 PM on December 3, 2010


Battle of Moscow was very closely fought and if you look at casualties on both sides, in lives and armor, you'll quickly see that it wasn't a matter of transportation but a matter of Soviets being able to absorb much higher losses. Soviet Union had roughly 150 million people at the time, and Germany ~80 million.

The Germans lost the battle. The casualties mean nothing. They were precariously perched on an edge and could have lost it all. Remember, the General Staff prepared for an all-out-retreat. Halder knew the war was lost. Hitler's stand-and-fight order stopped the bleeding, but extended the war unecessarily.

But focusing on the ability to endure casualties only proves my point. Why are they attacking the largest countrie in the world with a population twice theirs? Its stupid. Colossaly so.

Also, the Russian Revolution happened for a lot more reasons that WWI.

The Germans fought a war of extinction against the Russians--the Russians would have fought under Daffy Duck. As Sun Tzu said, always leave a pressed enemy a way out. If the only option is fight or be slaughtered, you're gonna fight. Hitler fatally believed that the Russians would submit to death. What a stupid idea.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2010


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