“Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: ‘Do not march on Moscow” – British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery
From hindsight it appears sheer madness.Yet if you attempt to explore Hitler’s fanatical mind at the time, there may have been a method to his madness.The great Napoleon Bonaparte had had the audacity to try it and lost his entire army in the process. He would find himself removed from power in Europe, ultimately spending his last days on a desolate island. Why then, did Hitler try it? It’s an extremely complex answer and one I hope to make a little clearer. Germany had an opportunity to win it, but that’s a topic for another day. As with Napoleon, it would mark the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and the German people, who by this time whether they liked it or not, were all in.
5. Hitler’s Obsession with Britain
Adolf Hitler tried several times to conclude a treaty with Britain to try and keep them out of the war. He calculated that once they entered they may have support from the USA which would be a long term challenge for the German Army. Once Hitler annexed both the Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia and then Austria, Britain and France began rearming. Germany had started rearming furiously in the years before this and knew it was a matter of time before the two countries caught up with German re-armament. When Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939 with no military action from France or Britain, he decided to set his sites on Poland. Britain and France let the Germans know that any attack on Poland would be met with military force.
On the eve of the Polish invasion, Hitler, still wary, tried once more to conclude a treaty with Britain. Britain, however, was having none of it, concluding that Hitler would never stop his demands for more territory. After he conquered the Poles, he turned his attention to France thinking that his conquest of that country would finally bring Britain to the table. When Britain still refused to play his game, he turned his eyes towards the USSR. Fearing that Britain and Russia may seek an alliance against Germany, he decided on the ill fated ‘Operation Barbarossa’ to prevent this from happening.
4. Overconfident and Ill Informed
After conquering France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in a mere six weeks, The German Army appeared unstoppable. By the summer of 1940, the Führer stood at the pinnacle of world power – feared by most, admired by many, and absolutely worshiped by the German people. When he returned to Berlin, there was an outpouring of popular delirium unprecedented in German history. For Hitler, the bigger the success, the more he believed he could do no wrong. Even though the Luftwaffe had failed to bring Britain to heel, he still believed it was just a matter of time until he could neutralize them. Turning his sites now on Russia after a string of successes, Hitler believed the Russian military to be no match for the German Army.
Most of his generals had watched as Soviet Russia confidently invaded Finland in November 1939, only to see the Red Army disintegrate into a disorganized mess and be humiliatingly defeated by the much smaller Finnish fighting force. The German Intelligence Agency, the Abwehr, initially estimated the Soviet Army’s will and capability were low, a line of thinking which was shared by the Nazi hierarchy. The Abwehr’s assessments left the German General Staff believing that the Red Army only possessed ninety infantry divisions, twenty-three cavalry divisions, and a mere twenty-eight mechanized brigades.
These assessments from the Abwehr contributed to military overconfidence and there was no mention of Russia’s massive mobilization capability. This was a huge miscalculation since it was critical for the German Army to reach their objectives quickly in order to avoid supply and weather issues. Overestimating their capabilities and trusting their own assessments too much, the Germans failed to plan Operation Barbarossa accordingly.
3. Hitler’s Ideology
For the most part, Hitler had never tried to hide his true intentions. In his book, Mein Kemp, Hitler states that since the Aryans are the master race, they are entitled simply by that fact to acquire more land for themselves. This living space, will be acquired by force, Hitler says, and includes the lands to the east of Germany, namely Russia. That land would be used to cultivate food and to provide room for the expanding Aryan population at the expense of the Slavic peoples, who were to be removed, eliminated, or enslaved. It also stated that Jewish-Bolshevism must me stamped out at all costs. Staying true to his beliefs, the struggle with Communist Russia had to happen. For Hitler, the war was a racial struggle. He considered the German to be the ultimate form of human, while the Jews and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe were the lowest.
That Hitler was able to sell the invasion of Russia to the German people is astonishing. He did it by blaming everyone one else, mainly Britain and Russia. The British and Russians were intent on destroying Germany so he said. It’s important to note that by this time Hitler’s power was absolute. He had positioned himself as the ultimate decision maker on all issues and was challenged by no one. Whatever the German people’s fears, they had seen their Furher annex Czechoslovakia and Austria with ease. They witnessed him thumb his nose at the rest of the world by successfully invading Poland and then conquer France in just 6 weeks. Perhaps, some said, he was invincible.
Certainly not everyone in Germany felt that way. Maria Mauth, a 17-year-old German schoolgirl at the time, recalled her father’s reaction: “I will never forget my father saying: ‘Right, now we have lost the war!’ ” Reich Marshal Hermann Goring himself was still putting out feelers in Britain to see if a last minute peace treaty between her and Germany was possible in the hope it might persuade Hitler from going to war with Russia. At the end of the day, Hitler’s grip on power was such that, whatever his will, it would be carried out.
2. A Little Help From His Friends in Japan
There were tentative plans for a joint German-Japanese pact against the USSR in the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact. The Japanese had lost two border fights against the Soviets, the Battles of Lake Khasan and Khalkin Gol, thereby convincing themselves that the Imperial Japanese Army, lacking heavy tanks, would be in no position to challenge the Red Army at that time. Nonetheless, Hitler’s anti-Soviet furor soon led to further rapprochements with Japan, believing that Japan would join Germany in a future war against the Soviet Union, either by invading southeast Siberia, or by tying up part of the Red Army, which was already fearing an attack by Japan.
Hitler became frustrated with Japan when they were embroiled in seemingly endless negotiations with the United States, and tending against a war with the USSR in 1939. The next year, Japan continued with its expansion plans.The invasion of French Indochina on September 22, 1940 and their ongoing bloody conflict with China, put a severe strain on American-Japanese relations. On July 26, 1940, the United States passed the Export Control Act, which cut oil, iron and steel exports to Japan. This led Japan’s militaristic leaders to move closer to Germany. With Nazi Germany in control of most of Continental Europe, Japan interpreted the situation in Europe as proof of a fundamental and fatal weakness in western democracies.This ultimately led to the Tripartite Pact on September 22, 1940 between Germany, Italy and Japan.
In signing the Tripartite Pact, Hitler had two main objectives.The first was to encouraging the Japanese to invade Singapore, controlled by the British Empire, and divert their attention from Europe.The second was invading Russia from the east and drawing off Russian troops and armaments from German forces. There was a group of officials in the Japanese Army who supported a coordinated attack with Germany against the USSR and seizing East Siberia. But the Japanese minister of war Hideki Tōjō was pressured by the Japanese Imperial Navy to exploit the weakened European powers by occupying their resource-rich colonies in South-East Asia. In order to secure Japan’s back while expanding south, the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact was signed in Moscow on April 13,1941 by the Japanese foreign minister Matsuoka on his return trip from a visit to Berlin. Hitler, who was not informed in advance by the Japanese and considering the pact a ruse to stall, misinterpreted the diplomatic situation and thought that his attack on the USSR would bring a tremendous relief for Japan in East Asia and thereby a much stronger threat to American activities through Japanese interventions. As a result, Germany pressed forward with ‘Operation Barbarossa’ which started two months later on June 22 without any warning to its Axis partners.
1. In the end there was no alternative
For an ideological and fanatical man like Adolf Hitler, there was no other choice. Although at first he brought economic stability and prosperity to the German people, something which the Weimer Republic could never do, it was not the end game.The elimination of unemployment in Germany during the Great Depression without inflation was a remarkable accomplishment.
The Hitler regime’s economic policy involved, according to the economist John Galbraith, “large scale borrowing for public expenditures, and at first this was principally for civilian work — railroads, canals and the Autobahnen [highway network]. The result was a far more effective attack on unemployment than in any other industrial country.” “By late 1935,” he wrote, “unemployment was at an end in Germany. By 1936 high income was pulling up prices or making it possible to raise them … Germany, by the late thirties, had full employment at stable prices. It was, in the industrial world, an absolutely unique achievement.”
Hitler and his government banished unemployment within four years. It happened so fast that there was a national labor shortage. This Nazi economic achievement should not be underestimated. No other European economy achieved such a rapid recovery. To most people in 1930’s Germany, it seemed there had been an economic miracle.
Could Hitler have ever been content to just rule a peaceful and prosperous Germany? Very doubtful. Adolf Hitler’s mission went way beyond that. The “economic miracle” of Germany was simply a means to an end. He needed a revived economy to reach his goal of German rearmament. He spent a good part of his early life developing an extreme revolutionary ideology. That ideology consisted of retribution for the Treaty of Versailles in WW I and the extermination of Jews, Slavs and anyone else he thought responsible for Germany’s humiliation. Once he achieved ultimate power of the state and control of the most technologically advanced military on the planet, it was time to fulfill his warped vision.
There has been a multitude of psychologists that have tried to find a simple mental explanation for Hitler’s actions. The majority of them have ruled out severe mental or physical illness as a cause of his destructive leadership, requiring us to confront the political paranoia that gripped Hitler’s Germany — the fit between a malignant leader and wounded followers — and to ask an uncomfortable question as we grapple with the horror of the Holocaust: What is it in us, ordinary human beings, that permits us to respond so enthusiastically to the siren song of hatred?