Discussion thread can be found here:https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=140356
BTW: Originally this part was supposed to be the whole T/L
Before examining the actual final conflict between the Western democracies, chiefly Canada, Great Britain, and the United States and Nazi Germany, it is worth reviewing that circumstances that brought the world to that critical juncture.
In 1939 Nazi Germany, then also called the “Third Reich” or simply the Reich, had initiated the European Phase of the Second World War with the invasion of Poland, At the time of the invasion Germany was in a state of near alliance with the Soviet Union with Soviet oil and agriculture providing much of Reich’s fuel and food. Poland was supported by both France and Great Britain and the two Western states had made clear that an attack on Poland would lead to war. It has long been debated why the Democracies waited until the Polish crisis to confront the still developing German war machine, but the decisions made in both London and Paris in late summer of 1939 were resolute and both nations believed that their combined power would be sufficient to deter Adolph Hitler’s Germany from aggression against Poland. On September 1, 1939 Hitler demonstrated his contempt for, and disbelief in, the Democracies statements and warnings when the German military (or, as it was known at the time, the Wehrmacht) crossed the international frontier separating Germany and Poland, and unleashed an early version of mechanized warfare against the Polish Army. Shortly after the Reich’s invasion of Poland, its quasi-ally the Soviet Union entered Poland and annexed a significant portion of the country’s eastern provinces. Strangely, this action caused no reaction by either the British or French governments while those of the Reich were responded to with declarations of war.
Despite these Declarations, and the fact that Hitler had focused well over 80% of his total military strength against the Poles, neither France nor Britain made any serious attempt to attack Germany at this point of greatest vulnerability. Much like the decisions made as early as 1936, this failure to act has been the subject of enormous debate among military professions for almost three generations with no consensus having been reached beyond a general agreement that the period from September through mid-November 1939 represents one of the great missed opportunities in military history. Considering the results this failure must also be considered to be one of the starkest tragedies in human memory.
Following a period of time dubbed the Phony War by the era’s media, German forces invaded Norway in March and then attacked France and the Low Countries in May of 1940, achieving strategic surprise despite the existing state of war between the Germans and the Democracies of the West. Much as had been the case in Poland in 1939, German mobile tactics, built around armored formations supported by air power, proved to be insoluble by Allied commanders. While the failure of the Poles to contain and defeat German spearheads can be at least partially explained by lack of proper equipment, the same can not be said for the inexplicable collapse of both the British and French armies which had equal, if not superior equipment, especially in the area of tanks and motorization. Whatever the cause, the Reich’s invasion of Western Europe was a stunning and rapid success. By the end of June 1940 Germany and her Italian ally controlled all of Western Europe save the British Isles, Iberian Peninsula, and Switzerland
While Germany was demonstrating a stunning efficiency, their Fascist Italy partner was showing nearly the exact opposite. Whether the result of poor civilian leadership, or a case of Military General Staff incompetence on a grand scale the independent Italian war effort proved to be a disaster for the Italian people. An ill-advised adventure into Greece was retrieved from defeat solely by the intervention of Wehrmacht forces sent by Hitler to save his Italian ally. Unfortunately for Rome Hitler proved to be unwilling to send German forces to Africa when Italian forces found themselves overmatched by British Commonwealth forces in the North African Desert. When the British, with the support of “Free French” political leaders, used Italy’s attacks into the Middle East as a pretext to seize French Colonies in the region and depose the pro-Axis Shah of Iran, Hitler presented Mussolini with an ultimatum demanding that Italy take no further actions outside of Europe until the Bolsheviks had been defeated or face the loss of all German support. Faced with the prospect of losing his gains in Greece and the portion of France that had been ceded to Rome by Hitler as spoils, Mussolini relented. The resulting low level naval war in the Mediterranean persisted until the end of active hostilities in Europe without causing any significant impact on the war’s outcome. The end of German activity in the Mediterranean Theater also marked the effective end of active combat with Commonwealth Forces in all areas except the North Atlantic, where Germany waged a serious, and quite nearly successful submarine warfare campaign against shipping headed to Great Britain.
In June of 1941, after nearly a full year of preparation, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. Thanks, in large part, to the remarkable failure of Josef Stalin to react in any reasonable manner to pre-attack intelligence reports regarding German build-ups on the frontier pre-invasion and Stalin’s post invasion ham handed intervention in the actual conduct of Red Army operations German forces made huge gains in the war’s opening months before the first year’s campaign was brought to a close by the Russian winter. The winter of 1941-42 was where the Reich’s year long preparation for Barbarossa first bore fruit. Having anticipated defeating the Soviets in the war’s first few months, the Germans had amassed a large amount of winter uniforms and equipment for the expected occupation forces (and, unknown to most of the Wehrmacht’s planning staff, Einsatzguppen detachments) that allowed German ground force to endure the very poor conditions better than the shattered elements of the Red Army.
In December of 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (covered in detail in Volume II) Germany declared War on the United States. While this put Germany into a state of war with the UK, USSR and U.S., the situation was not nearly as severe as first glance would indicate. The Reich had begun construction of massive defensive fortifications along the entire French Coast. Foreshadowing the horrors to come more than 80% of the labor engaged in construction of the so called “Atlantic Wall” and other German military facilities in the Occupied Territories was provided by what can only be described as slaves brought in to do this manual labor from Poland and culled from among Russian PoW’s (in direct violation of the Hague Agreements). By early 1942 these fortifications already made any thought of attacking into France via the capture of a port virtual suicide. Combined with the general lack of preparedness of American ground forces in the winter of 1941/42 Germany did not face a true two front war danger for at least a year and a half from the time of America’s entry into the war. It was time the Reich spent very well.
In the spring of 1942 the German’s resumed their offensive in the USSR. This offensive met with nearly the same successes as in the previous year. . In the early summer a drive toward the Caucuses was undertaken, including a serious drive to the Volga. The key position in this southern section of the Soviet Union was centered on the City of Stalingrad. For reasons both practical and symbolic the engagement here was determined to be one that neither side could lose. Losses on both sides were dramatic, beyond anything seen to that point in the European Phase. It was not until October 12 that German forces completed their isolation of the city’s defenders when the took what both sides had come to call “The Crossing”, the only location on the western side of the Volga where Soviet reinforcements could land in support of the City. Loss of the crossing meant inevitable loss of Stalingrad. While small units of Red Army force fought until early January, the inability of the Soviets to resupply the forces in the city made the heroic stand of these small units all the more tragic. Moreover, the capture of the Crossing released better than 240,000 troops of the 6th Army for duty along the rest of the Volga line before winter fell.
Stalin, never the most forgiving of leaders, reacted violently to the loss of his namesake city, Most of Stavka (the Soviet High command), including Marshall Georgy Zhukov, perhaps the most forward thinking Soviet commander at the time along with Marshall Timoshenko, the head of the General Staff, as well as virtually every surviving general officer and Commissar on the Southwest Front were given six minute trials followed by a bullet between the eyes. These actions, even more than the actual loss of the City and use of the Volga, were to prove a disaster to the Red Army, one from which it was never to fully recover.
Shorn of most of its planners and leadership by Stalin’s fit of pique Operations Jupiter and Mars, the Soviet attempts to counterattack in March of 1943 were an unmitigated disasters, with Red Army losses totaling over 850,000 men killed, wounded, and captured. When Stalin died on March 23rd 1943, reputedly of a heart attack, although persistent rumors exist to this day that the death was anything but natural, the power vacuum atop the USSR led to a general collapse of Soviet resistance as NKVD and Red Army units fought for position and personal survival. When Beria’s NKVD faction was defeated by a group that had Foreign Minister Molotov as figurehead, the situation had deteriorated to the point where the USSR was forced to seek terms from the Reich.
Unsurprisingly, these terms were well beyond harsh and both eviscerated the USSR and greatly enhanced the German state. The bounty received by the Reich was staggering, ranging from Soviet gold reserves to fully operational munitions factories to thousands of tons of raw material and supplies that had been produced in American factories and sent to the Soviets as part of Lend-Lease. The remarkable amount and quality of the Lend-Lease materials is reputed to have caused Grand Admiral Raeder of the Kreigsmarine (as the German Navy was known at the time) to state “maybe we shouldn’t have sank so many of those Murmansk convoys!”. While it accuracy of this legend will never be known, it would have been an accurate statement.
The State of the War in the West 1942-43
While the U.S. and Great Britain had agreed to a “Europe 1st” Strategy before the war had even begun for the United States the circumstances in January of 1942 presented problems for the policy. Even at this early date the Reich’s fortification efforts along the Channel were enough to give the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff pause. While American planners wanted to close with the Germans at first opportunity, the where of that encounter was difficult to find. American troops were not trained or combat tested yet, and the British, after their disastrous encounters with the Reich’s ground forces were more than slightly hesitant to invade “Fortress Europe” until the Soviets had, hopefully, cut the 200+ division German ground force down to a more manageable size. Until then, the Allies would have to find ways to nibble at the Germans without exposing themselves to potential disaster on the beaches of France.
Perhaps the most frustrated members of the American AND British militaries were the Air Force commanders. While British Bomber Command was making regular attacks against European targets they were having almost no impact on German war production while exacting a serious toll among Bomber Command aircrews and aircraft inventories. American commanders were eager to make their debut, but the number of available aircraft was low both in bombers and in escort fighters. While American commanders were certain that the B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers could fight through any opposition, the experiences of Bomber Command indicated that this confidence was somewhat misplaced. In any case, the American bomber forces would not have enough of the “D” model B-17 bombers to begin any sort of offensive until early summer, if not later. Long range bombers, were also in great demand in the Pacific, as well as along the American Atlantic coast, where German submarines, the famed U-boats, were causing havoc.
Anglo/American plans for taking offensive action in Europe before mid 1943 were dealt a stunning series of blows by the German successes in Russia, with the Stalingrad disaster causing the Allies to come a fork in the road regarding war planning. With the sudden possibility of a Soviet collapse, the Allies attempted several large scale raids into France in hopes of relieving pressure on the Soviets, all of which resulted in failure, or at best Pyrrhic victories. The recapture of Guernsey Island, along with the smaller Herm and Sark Islands and several of the nearby islets from German forces, while providing a morale boost for the British public, was hardly worth the better part of a British parachute division in the failed assault on Jersey or the loss of HMS Sheffield and three destroyers, along with the crippling of the cruiser USS Savannah in the Force Jersey rescue effort. Worst of all, these efforts diverted neither German attention or forces from the main struggle in the East while costing the Allies highly trained men and much needed shipping.
As the Eastern Front collapsed, the best the Western Allies could come up with was a rather pointless, if ego boosting, invasion of Vichy Africa, a move which resulted in the German reoccupation of the previously “independent” portions of European France but in no other German reaction. The only significant damage inflicted on Axis fortunes was the destruction of most of the Italian fleet in a series of sharp actions mostly involving Royal Navy forces with only minor USN participation. Even by November of 1942, the USN, led by the relentless efforts of Chief of Naval Operations King, had shifted its gaze to what it saw as the main field of battle in the Pacific.
When Molotov agreed to the German terms for peace he left the Western Allies in a quandary. There was little doubt that the German Army, with well over 200 battle hardened divisions was an overmatch for the currently available Anglo/American ground forces, even if the number of divisions needed to police the freshly conquered territories were taken into account. A significant disagreement broke out between the American and British chiefs regarding the course of the war. The British, strongly supported by Churchill, wanted to invade Sicily as the first step of a Balkan Strategy that would allow access to Europe via the “soft underbelly of the continent”. The Americans saw anything but a soft underbelly in the mountains of Italy and the Balkans and believed that they saw a British strategy designed to maintain its Imperial holdings, something that the British stoutly denied. In the end there was no agreement on the next offensive step, simply a decision to ensure that the Reich would not be able to further expand into the Middle East or, now that it was freed of the Eastern Front, invade the British Isles.
Shortly thereafter American and British division deployed into Iran and Iraq while intense diplomatic pressure was applied to Istanbul to keep Turkey out of the Axis and bring it into the Allied camp. Often the Allied diplomats found themselves competing for calendar space with their Reich counterparts who were pushing equally hard for Turkey to join the Axis. The Turks, for their part, remembered well the disaster that had befallen them the last time they had allowed themselves to be drawn into a Northern European conflict. They accepted all visitors and kept their options open, hoping for nothing more than to be left alone.
As part of the Allied determination to prevent any invasion of the Isles, tens of thousands of American ground troops and what rapidly became a stunningly large U.S. air armada settled onto what seemed to be every flat surface in Britain. While regular daylight precision bombing began by the USAAF 8th Air Force, RAF fighter squadrons received reinforcements in the form of American P-38 night fighter squadrons. Soon Luftwaffe bomber pilots learned to dread the silhouette of the “fork tailed devil” in the night sky as the heavily armed and exceptionally fast Lightning took to the skies against their missions.
Still, even with the diversion of so many soldiers and aircraft, the Allies found their naval forces at loose ends as the U-boat threat was defeated by improved tactics and decoded messages (for details on the decisive impact of allied code breakers against both Germany and Japan, see Chapter 5 of Volume II). These naval units were not left without work for long.
The Third Reich & the creation of Greater Germany
The goal of Nazi Germany in beginning the European Phase of the Second World War was to achieve, it claimed, living space and to unite all the German peoples into a single nation again. Both of these claims were, even at the time, viewed with more than some skepticism outside of the Reich’s borders. While there were legitimate issues involving the treatment of minorities in various European states (including German speakers in a number of nations), the extreme measures taken by Nazi Party officials, as early as 1933, indicate that the desire was far darker than that stated publicly. Reading of Hitler’s own published works make clear that a primary driver of the author, and later of his associates was an overt racism of both remarkable virulence and wide scope. While the Nazi Party had established even before gaining power via the Ballot Box that it was anti-Semitic this was far from unusual in 1930’s Europe where such prejudices were wide spread and surprisingly accepted across much of society. What were very different were the additional hatreds that were part of the Nazi manifesto, with groups ranging from Slavs to Asians to Roma (Gypsies) along with homosexuals, Communists, intellectuals, the handicapped, and followers of several religions all being marked as “different” and hence dangerous to the “Volk” (German for people, it was commonly used in place of citizen or residents in the Reich). These beliefs were to produce remarkable results during the acquisition phase of the Reich’s attacks across the European continent and in the following years.
An additional element nearly unique to the Reich was that Party ideology, rather than economic or even military considerations, controlled policy making on what quickly became a continental scale. Many studies have been made of the economic damage Nazi racial policies caused to Greater Germany, and they are well beyond the scope of this work, however, it would be remiss to not provide an overview of the Nazi policies and activities since they had such a dramatic impact on the eventual outcome of the conflict between the West and Germany.
Well before the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Reich had begun to clear Germany, followed by Austria and Czechoslovakia, of Jews and other undesirables. Initially there appears to have been some question of exactly where the displaced Jews were to be sent with numerous schemes considered (including a rather bizarre study conducted following the defeat and occupation of France involving movement all the Jews in Europe, along with certain other undesirables, to the island of Madagascar), but with the occupation of much of Poland, with its substantial native Jewish population, it seems that all half measures were considered to be insufficient. This resulted in the infamous “Final Solution” to the Jewish Problem.
A plan to do nothing less than murder every Jew in Europe (presumably as a first step in ridding the entire Planet of them), the Final Solution was a plan of unprecedented scope, involving the extermination of some eleven million people. That even this number was to eventually become just the tip of the exterminations conducted by the Nazis speaks to the power of both Hitler himself and the dedication of his subordinates. Headed by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi Party Internal Security forces, the exterminations of such a massive number of persons became a ghastly testament to the power of the industrialized state. After several false starts involving firing squads, trucks designed to vent exhaust gases into a passenger compartment filled with victims, and simply forcing victims off of cliffs or from bridges of acceptable height, all of which proved to be inadequate given the number of deaths required, Himmler’s SS department (a force of troops with unique uniforms who made a special, personal, pledge to Hitler who were outside of the Wehrmacht’s command structure) came up with the concept of extermination camps. These camps designed to kill and “process” as many 115,000 people per month were established mainly in the conquered eastern regions of Europe, in the region known to the Reich as the General Government (formerly central Poland). The camps were operated as a combination of simple murder sites and slave labor camps where products, many but not all, meant for use by the military were produced. Inmates of the camps were also used to much of work within the camps, build roads and rail lines, and even construct more camps. These tasks were all done under starvation conditions until an inmate was too weak to work at which point the were murdered (a common method of determining if an inmate could still perform labor tasks was to punch them in the face, those who did not fall over, or were able to regain their feet, were deemed capable of continued labor). Had the Nazi government simply committed these acts, it would have been as evil a regime as has ever existed. Of course, the Reich went far beyond even this level of effort.
With the defeat of the USSR, Germany found itself with million of new subjects, many of which the Party preached as being less than fully human. While there was a need for many of these new subjects as workers, there were far too many to keep around simply laboring for the glory of Greater Germany. Other actions would be needed. Himmler found the most popular answers in the practices of “re-Germanization” and the self descriptive “extermination through labor”.
Re-Germanization was a practice built on the demented racial views of the Nazi Party elite of “The Aryan Ideal”. In its most simple form, this meant a native born German without physical defect, however, as the war continued this view was gradually expanded, first to German speakers born outside the Reich to “good German stock” and then to individuals and families with Blond hair and/or blue eyes. Individuals were offered the opportunity to become “honorary Germans” who would eventually become fully accepted members of the Reich Volk or if very young, were simply stripped away from the families and sent to German to be raised by Party families (this was especially common with very young infants whose parents had the misfortune to not look German enough to be offered a place in Greater Germany). Individuals who turned down this offer were frequently selected for extermination through labor, where they joined a long list of undesirables including Polish and Soviet PoWs, Roma, Slavs, and especially Communists and other political prisoners. The extermination through labor policy was so effective that SS forces effectively emptied most of the non-critical urban population of the conquered eastern regions through the practice (rural populations were, after a few false starts, mainly left alive to produce food for the Reich). These forced laborers were the engine that built up the famed Atlantic Wall to its eventual fortification depth of 10 kilometers along the French Channel Coast and to narrower, but still impressive size along the rest of the occupied territories. The human toll of completing these defenses is still a subject of considerable debate, mainly centered on the exact definition of direct casualty of the construction, but is generally agreed to exceed thirteen million in France alone.
Remarkably, the Reich was so confident of its re-Germanization policy that the probationary members of the Volk were soon given jobs in even the most sensitive portions of the Reich’s production facilities where they often encountered other foreign workers who have nearly as little reason to love Germany as the dispossessed Germans to be. The Party was foolishly overconfident that its secret police, especially the dreaded Gestapo, would be able to maintain order and security in every case.
Of course this level of construction would have been impossible had it not been for the tribute (or reparations as the Reich described it) that Germany extracted on a daily basis from the Molotov Government. This tribute, initially filled by stripping the Soviet Union of machine tools, raw materials supplied by the Allies under Lend Lease, and eventually entire factories (Goring is on record as having said “well, if they could move them behind the Urals, the can surely move them back” when an aide questions the ability of the Molotov government to supply sufficient machine tools to fill its quotas) and later supplied from the immense mineral wealth of the Siberian Steppe and the labor of millions of Russians. When combined with the “contributions” from Axis allies like Vichy France, Denmark, Norway, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy, and materials purchased from the few unconquered European states sufficient material was accumulated to construct the Atlantic Wall, and still be able to maintain the German military machine. The steady stream of materials coming out of Siberia, along with the availability of almost no-cost labor also encouraged German planners to build many of the Reich’s new factories in what had once been the Ukraine despite the ongoing low level partisan war that was an ever present fact in the territories that had once been part of the USSR.
With the addition of Belgian, French, Danish, Dutch, and Ukrainian shipyards the Reich was also able to begin a serious naval building program with the goal of being able to meet and defeat any Western invasion fleet. While many of Hitler’s advisors suggested that it was impossible to catch up to the Royal Navy, much less the USN, Hitler was set in his vision of a Kreigsmarine equal to anything the West could produce.
The re-organization of the Greater German military and its allies
In understanding the eventual events of the final Western Allies – Reich clash it is important to have an overview of the evolution of the Greater German military structure and how its allies and client states fit into the overall European defense network.
With the defeat of the Soviet field armies and the apparent Allies inability to make an immediate entry into occupied Europe Berlin gradually altered the structure of its own forces and began to make increasing use of the military organizations and/or available manpower of their conquests. In this structure there were two different types of non Reich forces existed, National forces and “Pan-European” units.
National forces were fielded by nations that had more or less joined the German wars voluntarily, these were chiefly forces from Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, Hungary, Norway, Romania, and Slovakia, with France joining these early allied states in late 1945, The National forces had notional independent command under their respective governments, but all were obligated to a greater or lesser degree, to follow Berlin’s specific directions in military matters. All of the National forces were able to, if they desired, manufacture their own weapons and other equipment, including in the case of Italy and France, their own aircraft and warship designs. Overall, the National forces, and their home countries, gave many of the appearances of independent states, at least on the surface. In actual fact, each of these countries were utterly dominated politically by Germany, with political leaders selected by Nazi Party leaders in each country with the final approval of Berlin necessary before any changes were made. Each independent European ally also had its own secret police force, based on the SS Gestapo, and staffed by fanatical fascists who often were more radical than their German counterparts, which crushed any signs of dissent and generally maintained a reign of terror under the oversight of SS Headquarters in Berlin. National military forces were also generally deployed outside their home country (French troops, as an example, were the most numerous garrison forces in southern Italy and Sicily) which reduced the chances of any sort of unfortunate Nationalist uprisings, although these did occasionally occur only to be crushed with swift brutality. While the overall quality and morale of the Nation forces was uneven, all were more than sufficient to work as fortress troops with some units being equal to any pure “Old German” formation.
Countries that had not been found to be sufficiently politically reliable to be granted the independence of the Reich client states were not spared from supporting the Reich. In these countries there were three different levels of conscription all lasting 12 years. The first level was effectively voluntary, as soldiers in SS battalions. These volunteers were limited to those who met the Reich’s Aryan ideals in appearance and were, for the most part, fascists and/or dedicated anti-communists.
The second level of conscripts formed the “Pan-European” units. These conscripts were subjected to brutal discipline, required to learn German and subject to on-going “political education”. Discipline in these units was maintained by a combination of fear and blackmail; officers in these units were not required to even file reports if they executed any enlisted man below the rank of Sergeant and desertion was punished, not by execution, but by the liquidation of the deserter’s entire family out to 1st cousins (to remove the “family’s taint” from the population). Generally these forces were used against partisans in the East or, if conscripted from eastern populations as Fortress troops or common laborers.
The third level of conscription was effectively a death sentence as members of labor battalions. This level was reserved for deserters (including those from National forces) those suspected of political activity, criminal acts, individuals with physical or mental deformity (if able to work, those unable to work were sent to extermination camps), and those of “questionable Blood”. Those unfortunate enough to be assigned to these battalions were used to clear booby traps, mining, agricultural labor, and in many cases medical or scientific experimentation. The 12 year term of service for these conscripts was purely for show. Their actual fate was extermination through labor.
With the organization of the rest of occupied Europe and Reich client state manpower into military formations the Nazi Party proceeded to remake its own forces. In this it was again guided as much by ideology as by common sense or tradition. The German Army, despite its great successes in the European Pulse, was nearly dismantled in the immediate aftermath of its victory and replaced by a military wing of the Party, the Waffen-SS. The dismantling of the Heer (as the German Army was then known) had long been a goal of Hitler and his advisors, one that was confirmed as necessary when Heer troops and officers from the most junior platoon leaders to some of the General Staff’s senior members protested when the Heer was used to round up and, in some cases, execute Jews, Roma, and other undesirables in what the traditional Heer members found to be dishonorable conditions. Many of these troops, including senior officers, were either demoted or placed under the authority of SS commanders who found the professional military to be “squeamish” when it came to achieving the goals of Greater Germany. With the introduction of National forces and Pan-European units into garrison duties, the Waffen-SS became a mainly armored/mechanized formation, with much of its complement assigned to oversee loyalty of the client militaries and act as mobile reserves to reinforce the defenses of the Atlantic Wall. A separate group of SS troops, these mainly comprised of former Heer enlisted men who has committed some minor offense with long time Party and SS officials as commanders and senior NCOs, were organized into Einsatzgruppen with the mission of hunting down and liquidating fugitive Jews, Roma, partisans, and escaped Soviet PoWs. This was a difficult assignment, with removal to a penal battalion becoming the fate of troops who failed to show proper commitment to the task at hand.
The traditions of both the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) and Kreigsmarine were altered less than that of the Heer, but both were heavily influenced by the Nazi Party leadership. The Luftwaffe was under the direct command of Herman Goring, a WW I fighter pilot of some considerable skills who was an early part of the Nazi movement, who in addition to his role as Air Force commander was also the Deputy Fuhrer of the Reich. Goring was remarkably jealous of the Luftwaffe’s privileges and position. Anything having to do with combat the air, from ground based anti-aircraft artillery to Paratroopers was, in Goring’s opinion, property of the Luftwaffe leading to the unique circumstance of the Air Force being a military inside the military, with light infantry units and even a heavy armor division sharing the Table of Organization with anti-aircraft battalions, fighter, bomber, and observation aircraft squadrons all reporting to the same command staff. So protective was the Luftwaffe’s Chief of his position that the Naval Air Arm took orders, not from the Kriegsmarine, but from the Luftwaffe with the aircraft being the property of Goring’s Branch, not of the service that owned the ships off which the planes operated. The Luftwaffe also was the true commander of the various National air forces that were supposedly under the command of their independent states.
The Kriegsmarine, of all the German Service Branches, maintained its traditions beyond all others. Alone among the armed forces of Europe, the Kreigsmarine maintained the traditional military salute common among the world’s militaries, as well as retaining many of the same traditions that would have been recognizable to naval officers from the turn of the century. It was the least political of the Branches, although Party membership was nearly as important as actual skill when promotions were announced. Nearly destroyed in the first two years of the war, the German surface fleet was rebuilt and expanded by Hitler, as much as a symbol of equality with the Allies as with any specific mission in mind, with surprising speed thanks to the resources of the occupied territories and client states. This was especially true after the de facto 1946 cease fire when the end of regular bombing allowed construction to proceed in an orderly fashion.
The Allied Pacific Campaign and the shaping of the Western Forces
With the collapse of the USSR the Western Allies suddenly found themselves in a quandary. They had agreed that the Nazi state was the more serious threat and to follow a “Europe First” strategy despite the loud protests of the CNO, Admiral Ernest King, who believed that Japan needed to be brought to book for its attack on Pearl Harbor and other Western Allied state colonies and bases across most of the Pacific. With the loss of their Soviet Ally London and Washington found themselves suddenly facing a ground force exceeding 200 divisions, meaning that any assault on Fortress Europe would require 600 divisions (using the accepted 3-1 attacker/defender ratio in use at the time). Even with the combined strength of the entire British Commonwealth and the United States of America there was little hope of gathering this level of troops in the foreseeable future meaning that the Allies would need to reduce the Heer’s force size prior to any liberation of Europe was possible.
The only reasonable option for the Allies was an air offensive using heavy and medium bombers with the goal of damaging German civilian morale and the German industrial base sufficiently to allow a lower number of ground forces to make a successful attack. This approach ignored the fact that bombing had not broken the will of the German population despite regular attacks since 1940 and had none nothing but set the resolve of the British people as they faced ongoing attacks by the Luftwaffe. What followed was a massive war involving armies totaling well over a million men where almost no one on either side ever touched the ground of the enemy’s territory except after being shot down. When viewed on a percentage basis the losses of the aircrews on both sides exceeded those of infantry forces in 1917 France. Even the addition of American 8th Air Force bomber wings in daylight precision attacks to the long established RAF Bomber Command night area bombing did little to deter the German war effort. Whether this strategic bombing campaign would have, as it was claimed, have worn down the German ability to wage war (as did happen to Japan) if the USSR had not fallen will never be known, but with the release of the huge number of aircraft from activity in the East, combined with the unplanned, but very real, benefits from the decision to establish major factory sites in the General Government and western Ukrainian areas of occupation which were out of range of even the longest range Allied single engine escort fighter available, the P-51 Mustang ensured that the Allied efforts would be no more successful than the Luftwaffe’s efforts against Great Britain (at least until the late introduction of the F8B). By late 1944 both sides were nearly exhausted from the continuous poundings when the Reich upped the ante with the A-4 guided missile. The destruction of the A-4 sites by USMC Corsairs carrying Tiny Tim unguided rockets on September 22, 1945 was one of the few true successes of the air war despite the heavy losses experienced by the attacking squadrons. Operation Bulldog also featured the first jet v. jet combat when USAAF Shooting Star fighters operating out of Scotland in support of the operation tangled with Luftwaffe Me-262 fighters attacking the withdrawing Marine F4U.
The Allied war in the Pacific against Japan would, had it not been for the European Pulse, be recalled as the most vicious since the introduction of gunpowder. Almost from the opening moments it represented almost as much a clash of cultures as of arms. Imperial Japanese forces, steeped in a highly distilled version of Bushido (the traditional Japanese Way of the Warrior) viewed prisoners and surrender in a vastly different manner than their Anglo-American opponents. These differences rapidly turned the war into one fought with remarkable intensity, mistrust, and outright hatred on both sides. Japanese troops were found to feign surrender, making it less likely that their Western foes would accept surrenders, which meant that fewer Japanese tried to surrender, in an escalating loop that ended with Japanese civilians throwing themselves and their children from cliff tops on Saipan and Okinawa. By the same token Japanese forces, especially in the case of junior officers, treated Allied prisoners in what can only be described as a savage fashion that would have been very familiar to observers of SS troops in the General Government area or Ukraine. This brutality was magnified by the theater of operation where nearly all combat took place in either jungle environments or on small islands which offered no opportunity for retreat or even reasonable withdrawal. Most Japanese island garrisons suffered 95% or greater casualties with almost all survivors being conscripted Korean laborers. Jungle combat was little better, with wounded on both sides suffering horribly, what little evacuation resources available used for one’s own troops with the predictable outcome for those who were left in the septic conditions of the front lines.
The savage warfare on land was closely mirrored at sea and in the air. Japanese pilots, even early in the war, demonstrated a great willingness to conduct ramming attacks against enemy aircraft in addition to the more common (on both sides) act of crashing a damaged aircraft into an enemy vessel (The details of the Kamikaze tactics utilized by the Japanese from mid 1944 onward are examined in detail in Chapter Seven of Volume II).
As Royal Navy units began to reach the Pacific Theater of Operations the basic philosophical differences between fleet of Great Britain and the United States became rapidly apparent. American ships tended to be more heavily armed and armored with the notable exception of aircraft carriers where British designers had built in an armored flight deck for virtually all of the RN carriers the USN uniformly used wooden flight decks with an armored hanger deck below. The RN believed that this made its ships more battle worthy, while the USN believed that their ships were easier to repair. As events following the Japanese introduction of kamikaze demonstrated, there were elements of truth to both positions. The main advantage the USN had over its British ally was in the areas of aircraft designs and underway replenishment. Both of these advantages allowed the USN to maintain a much larger carrier based air force than the RN, with the American carriers also have a significant advantage in number and quality of aircraft embarked (the poor treatment of the FAA by its RAF cousin in the area of aircraft procurement is outlined in Appendix A). Still, the two navies quickly learned to work together, with the Americans finding the early addition of RAN and RNZN ships of great benefit in the early months of the war. Cooperation at the senior command level was less friendly, with CNO King often regarding the RN to be more of a rival than an asset. Had it not been for the strength of President Roosevelt as Commander in Chief it is possible that King’s deep mistrust of all things British may well have caused a serious rift between the two allies, as was, the relationship at senior command was correct, albeit frosty.
The July 1943 decision to have the Royal Navy and Commonwealth forces concentrate on the Dutch East Indies and former British possessions of Burma and Malaya also reduced the amount of friction with Admiral King, although the decision did place the Commonwealth forces partially under the command of General Douglas MacArthur depending on their exact deployment. The troops who suffered this misfortune, along with their commanders, would long rue the day.
Possibly the most interesting decision of the entire Pacific Phase was the decision of the Allies to NOT use the Atom Bomb against Japan. It was, without question, the most controversial decision made in the last year of the Pacific Phase. The decision was driven by intelligence reports smuggled out through neutral Sweden that convinced the Combined Joint Chiefs, PM Churchill and the new President of the U.S., Harry Truman that the Germans had concluded that the Atom Bomb was impossible (the superb disinformation campaign waged by the remnants of the KGB & GRU, both of which had thoroughly penetrated the Manhattan Project against the Nazi nuclear program is brilliantly examined in Patrick Drake’s Stalin’s Last Victory). Knowing this, the decision to keep the Bomb a secret while constructing a stockpile of some size was clearly the correct strategic decision, although the disastrous impact of the decision on the Japanese civilian population has caused much post war debate.
Unlike the European air war, the American strategic campaign against Japan, if not decisive on its own, unquestionably helped drive Japan to its knees. Between the massive firebombing of Japanese cities which resulted in the destruction of every Japanese city with a pre-war population of more than 75,000, mining of the Inland Sea, Yellow Sea and the less well known, but perhaps more decisive, mining campaign waged from the Aleutians (in dreadful weather and flying conditions) against the sea lanes leading from Vladivostok to the Japanese Home Islands that cut Japan off from its last contact with its European Axis partners the USAAF crushed Japan as an industrial power. When combined with the submarine blockade of Japan, the eventual carrier and tactical air force bombing and strafing effort against Japan’s already questionable transportation network the B-29 proved itself to be a truly devastating weapon.
It is, of course, the sheer level of success that the blockade and air campaign achieved that makes it so controversial. In the last two decades their have been a number of well researched books and military simulations that argue that as few as four nuclear weapons would have caused Emperor Hirohito to sue for Peace (although most researchers, as well as a recent War Game at the U.S. Naval War College, in which the author participated, indicate that as many as nine weapons would have been required to drive the Japanese to capitulate). Even if the generally accepted nine atom bombs had been needed, this would have resulted in no more than 800,000 direct deaths, with probably twice that in early mortality from radiation effects, or roughly 2.5 million civilian and military deaths. This is well under the estimated 4,000,000 who died in the continued fire bombings, from starvation, exposure, and illness in the Japanese Home Islands (including early mortality from the after effects of malnutrition and increased infant mortality in the 1946-56 reconstruction period) and among the cut-off Japanese military units before the Japanese Unconditional Surrender on November 11, 1946. In considering the far increased number of casualties in Japan, it is important to remember that it was wartime, and that the only consideration that was proper for Truman at the time was what would reduce Allied casualties in both the Pacific and, later, in the ETO.
“Warm” war and the decision to invade
The Period between the defeat of Japan and its subsequent occupation by the Allies (including the remarkable reclamation of the remnants of the Japanese culture during the period of General MacAthur’s governance) and the final engagement between the Western Allies and Nazi Germany is best described as a quasi-war punctuated by occasional sharp but brief outbreaks of violence between forward deployed forces.
After the wholesale destruction of the A-4 missile launch sites by American fighter bombers and the hellishly costly but markedly successful strike by Bomber Command against the German missile facilities, Berlin made a surprising offer to suspend air attacks against Britain and to exchange prisoners to the Anglo-Americans. There was no formal cease fire offered, the Allied “Unconditional Surrender” mantra, so recently and brutally demonstrated against Japan, was still in place and there was absolutely no sentiment in Allied capitals or in the Allied electorates for making peace with the Reich, but the end of air attacks was very attractive to the British, and the return of tens of thousands of Allied airmen (and British ground troops, many of whom had been in captivity since the spring of 1940) from German custody was very attractive. After extended negotiations brokered by Swedish and Spanish diplomats an agreement was reached that allowed any PoW who wished to remain in the country where they were being held to do so, and also provided for the release of any PoW still held in German custody from its six year old conquests who wished to come to the West to do so (with the offer to be made by Swedish authorities). Coupled with the release of PoWs was a one time deal that effectively purchased the freedom of surviving Jews (virtually all of whom were highly decorated German veterans of WW I) for two freighters of raw rubber, and an agreement to cease air attacks against population centers by both sides.
On February 12, 1947, the initial exchange of prisoners began; by the middle of March nearly 275,000 Allied prisoners and 194,000 German, Italian, and other Axis prisoners (virtually all of them airmen) had made the trip from Calais to England or back. Nearly 2,500 Allied prisoners, and close to 13,000 Axis prisoners (11,000+ of them from “National” militaries) chose to remain in the land of there former enemies. A total of 2,578 Jews were also released, these being virtually all remaining Jews in Conquered Europe that were know to the Nazis (there were still small Jewish populations in Italy and parts of Hungary that the National governments refused to turn over to their Nazi partners but these populations were not included in the exchange agreement). The results of the Reich’s agreement to trade WW I war heroes for raw materials was to, of course, have profound consequences, far greater than anyone involved at the time believed was possible.
This remarkable transfer of personnel was only possible due to the use of Allied, primarily USN, amphibious landing vessels that had been transferred from the Pacific Theater for the express purpose of making the exchange both possible and rapid. No one in the west truly expected the Reich to completely fulfill the agreement so speed was considered to be of the essence.
Surprisingly, the de facto cease fire held, at least in the case of air operations, for several years. Combat was generally limited to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean where Allied ant-submarine force still waged a war with the Kreigsmarine U-boats. The courage of the German submarine crews remains a remarkable story, even today. On the wrong side of a technological and cryptographic war (the German penetration of British Merchant Marine codes was revealed via Dutch collaborators to the Allies in late 1944, with a resulting change to full military quality codes for the merchant fleet that blinded the U-Boat force), U-boat crews suffered appalling losses with increasingly little return. Even the introduction of advanced designs like the Type XXI was insufficient to reverse the fortunes of the Kreigsmarine, especially once the Allies began to destroy the supposedly indestructible submarine bases with the specially designed Grand Slam bomb in late 1944 and the large scale introduction of the American Type 34 torpedo. Since these “sub pens” were clearly military targets and not located in population centers, even the bomber holiday did not provide them complete safety from air attack (although each Allied strike was very costly and generally responded to by German attacks against British naval and air bases, usually with massive Luftwaffe losses). For over four years, the Sub War was the only ongoing open conflict between the Allies and Axis.
It is unclear how long the limited war would have continued without the intervention of science and what is now generally accepted as a sudden change in Hitler’s metal state (although there remains a vocal minority who believe that the change in German policy was not Hitler’s idea at all, but that of one or more of his inner circle) that moved the situation from one that was mostly stable, if exceptionally hostile, to the Crusade in Europe.
Forces and equipment
Finally, it is worthwhile to review the two sides, both in equipment and in military philosophy at the time of the final conflict of the Second World War. It is here, in the weapons and methods utilized that the greatly divergent lessons learned by the two opponents is most clearly seen.
The Reich had been almost unimaginably lucky in the first year of the European Phase, with every action seeming to work perfectly, while every action of the British & French failing against all common sense in Norway and during the Blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries. This remarkable string of luck continued into the initial drive against the USSR, with the first setback to the Nazi wave of success being caused by an early snow. The remarkably destructive and vicious fighting that followed the Spring ’42 and resulted in the final destruction of the USSR as a European power was also marked by several instances of good fortune, including the success in taking the Crossing at Stalingrad in an engagement that could so easily have gone the other way. The Leadership in Berlin never recognized the hand of Chance in any of the successes it had achieved, believing everything to be proof of the superiority of the German Volk and of the National Socialist system. Both of these beliefs were reflected in the design of the Greater German military structure at the time of the Invasion.
German troops were, by far, the best equipped of all the nominally independent “National Forces” in post conquest Europe. There is still a degree of argument in military circles regarding the reasoning behind the disparity of equipment, specifically around how much was a conscious decision to hold down the military quality of the other Axis members, including Italy, and how much was simply arrogance on the part of the SS military decision makers. The differences, in any case, were dramatic.
While the Waffen SS, which had fully replaced the Heer as the Reich’s Wehrmacht ground component by 1948, comprised only 56 of the 235 divisions that defended “Fortress Europe” it operated 47 of the 78 armored divisions on the continent (with an additional 9 of these divisions being under the control of the Luftwaffe) and the various German infantry units were the only fully motorized divisions in Europe (Italy did operate 22 so called “mobile” infantry formations, as well as 9 armored divisions, but each unit only had sufficient transport to move 75% of the total troops in the TOE by truck or tracked vehicle). The remaining ground forces inside the German command structure were mainly basic infantry or fortress troops (a designation that was entirely missing from Allied command structures), with many of the troops trained exclusively to fight from fixed defensive positions. Nearly 70% of the fortress troops lacked personal weapons beyond revolvers as they were artillery or machine gun bunker crews (who the SS high command believed would never need to fight in any role besides servicing heavy weapons and who could not be expected to have any worthwhile fighting skills since they were not German) while many of the pure infantry National units were used as skirmishers in the ongoing low intensity war along the generally lawless German/Russian frontier.
While the SS armored formations made up only a small fraction of the total European defense force, they made up a significant element of the combat power facing the Allies. The Waffen SS operated the world’s finest tanks, with the Panther Mk III forming the core of its fighting strength. The Mk III was the direct result of the lessons learned by the Heer on the Eastern Front. Heavily armored, reasonably fast at 35 kph on gravel roads, and armed with a high velocity 105mm rifled gun it was, by far, the best tank on the planet. Supported by the heavy armored panzerwagen SD halftracks and Tiger assault guns, the Mk III was a formidable opponent anywhere in Europe with the mobility to serve as a striking force where ever needed (the Reich spent years reinforcing bridges continent-wide to allow the movement of the massive tanks and their supporting vehicles)
The Greater German air forces were an interesting mixture of the extremely advanced and the “experienced”. German interceptors were extremely fast and heavily armed bomber killers, with many carrying cannon as large as 57mm. They were generally larger than their allied counterparts, but with fairly limited range, being mainly designed as “point interceptors”. (The German B&V P.320 held the absolute time to 10,000 meter from standing start climb record until 1961). Germany had also developed a number of “schnell” jet bomber designs that saw use in the on/off air war against the UK and in occasional action as anti-shipping attacks in the Mediterranean Sea as well as the infamous Fw-688 heavy bomber. The Luftwaffe also operated a number of ground attack aircraft based on the Fw-190 and the Me-110 designs; these aircraft had been developed in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the USSR to battle the partisans and remaining Red Army units that had not accepted Molotov’s orders. While older designs they were proven in the ground attack role and were expected to soldier on in this vital if unglamorous role for years to come. Many of the National air forces operated squadrons of these aircraft, as well as a few home designed fighters/interceptors.
The Kriegsmarine, while the most active of the Reich’s armed forces during the Warm War, was also a study in contract. While its submarines fought an increasingly losing battle in the North Atlantic it also had, at Hitler’s direct orders, constructed a significant surface fleet (it is far from coincidental that this order came down shortly after the death of Admiral Karl Donitz in a British air attack). The surface fleet, with the exception of one cruiser action in the Eastern Mediterranean had not been battle tested but was of considerable size with three large carriers, two light carriers, seven 45,000 ton battleships, two Bismarck class BB, two BC, 6 armored cruisers (a unique German design, also known as panzershciffs), 16 CA, 14 CL, 58 DD and 38 frigates on the rolls. It was however, a fleet of two parts, with a fleet in the Black Sea consisting of 2 45,000 BB, 2 CVL, 5 CA, 5 CL, 15 DD, and 21 FF with the rest of the fleet in the Baltic Sea.
While the construction of the Black Sea force made sense in many ways, it, along with the Italian Agean Sea fleet, tied down nearly half of the RN and was a serious enough threat that the USN maintained TF 68 (centered on USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise, USS Essex, and all four South Dakota class BB in 1952) in the Mediterranean throughout most of the Warm War, with ships being relieved on regular, albeit unpredictable, rotation that always kept the U.S. 6th Fleet superior in number to any possible German sortie attempt, in others is was a significant waste of resources, even if most of the labor was supplied by Ukrainian and Polish slave workers. The Royal Navy and, especially, the USN was able to maintain the Allied Mediterranean force without serious strain elsewhere, while the German Black Sea squadron was a substantial drain on experienced German naval personnel and units constructed there were of no use in defending Europe from the Allies.
The entire effort to construct a serious blue water navy remains one of main debates surrounding Nazi war planning. What Hitler was actually thinking when he effectively over ruled all of his advisors and demanded a “Navy as good as the British have” has never been explained. Had the war ended, and any German Navy had full access to the open sea to train and to “show the flag” a small fleet would have been called for, but in the Warm War Allied forces struck at Kriegsmarine units whenever possible, to the point that German naval pilots were sent to the Crimea for flight training and deck qualification so training operations would not result in an unwanted battle.
The build-up of the surface fleet, much like the dismantling of the German General Staff and Army, is an enduring mystery of National Socialist Germany.
While Germany was building a very powerful armored ground force and strong defensive air force as a result of their experience in 1939-43, the Allies were going in a very different direction. While Allied ground formations did feature armored divisions, especially in the last few years before the Invasion, neither the U.S. nor British Armies were built around them to the exception of lighter formations. This was, of course, a product of the war that the Anglo/Americans had fought, just as the Waffen SS was the end result of the lessons learned in Europe.
The island hopping campaign in the Pacific, along with the jungle fighting in Burma and in the Dutch East Indies, had taught the Allies the usefulness of light formations and of the need to be able to construct vehicles that could handle being landed from sea directly against enemy defenders. It is, in hindsight, fortunate that the Japanese armies in Manchuria and China had chosen to fight on, at least for as long as they could, after the fall of the Home Islands. The fighting in Formosa, Manchuria and Korea, while it was against a poorly supplied and disorganized, if fanatically brave, force, did demonstrate to the Allies that tanks like the Sherman and Crusader were no match for the occasional German supplied Panther or T-34/85 or for the fearsome, if rarely encountered, 88mm DP gun that was sometime found in Manchuria. Had the defeat of the Soviet Union not allowed the Reich to ship some weapons to their nominal Japanese ally it is an open question if the Allies would have ever turned away from the “tank destroyers kill tanks, tanks support infantry” mindset that was the U.S. Army’s guiding principal through most of the Pacific War. Even with the experience against the German designs in Manchuria, the Allied tanks were not the heavily armored beasts that the Waffen SS operated, but they were far better than the Shermans that would otherwise have faced the Nazi forces.
The Allies, especially the Canadian and Australian armies, were early adopters of what later became known as air envelopment. While early helicopters were limited in range and lift, they rapidly proved to be a better way to land troops and light vehicles behind enemy lines as replacements for the despised glider. The helicopter was also ideal for the deployment and supply of small Ranger or Chindit units, a commando style unit that had become very popular in Burma and then in China and that Allied planners believed would be extremely useful in the Liberation of Europe. American Marine units also found the helicopter to be a natural extension of the landing craft, despite the early helicopter’s reliability and lifting limitations (one Marine Officer is famously quoted as saying that in an attack of a heavily defended enemy position “the damned chopper ride is the safest thing I do all day”). What was not known was how well helicopter would fare in heavy flak environment that characterized Nazi dominated Europe.
The Allied air forces had also gone in a different direction than the Luftwaffe. Allied aircraft were almost all designed to be fighters AND attack aircraft. Fighters virtually all had some sort of bombing capacity this extended to the point where there were few “medium” bombers in the Allied inventories except those left from earlier in the war, virtually all of these aircraft had been converted to “gunships” sprouting as many as 20 heavy machine guns or cannon that were used against light shipping traffic or in close ground support roles. One result of the mixed use role of the Allied fighter was that, overall, they were markedly more maneuverable than their Luftwaffe rivals while having greater range, although at the cost of maximum dash speed. The Allies had also long maintained, and had continued to develop the heavy long ranged bomber in much greater numbers than the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe had nothing to equal the American B-47, much less the newly accepted B-52.
One area where the Allies had a dominant position was in the Atom Bomb. While the existence of “The Bomb” had been rumored often enough that many Luftwaffe officers accepted that some such weapon did exist, the German science community was widely split. Thanks to the continued efforts of deep penetration Soviet agents and the actions of resistors among the “loyal” workers in France and across Western Europe, the German nuclear weapons effort had sputtered. Nazi political beliefs helped the Allies in this regard as there existed a deep distrust of “Jewish” sciences and any product of such an unclean source. Unbeknownst to the Allies the Reich had, of course, developed its own “ultimate weapon”.
The Allied navies were a vast overmatch for the Kriegsmarine. This is only to be expected, as the American and British shipyards had been producing at wartime levels for more than a decade, and both Allied fleets had massively outnumbered the Kriegsmarine before the war began. The Allied navies included 45 fleet carriers (including 7 of the massive Midway class angled deck ships), 36 battleships (this, of course, included the old ships of the amphibious fleet Gun Line, which also featured the unusual USN “Cruiser, Large” ships, as well as the more modern “Fast BB”), 110 CVE, 5 CB, 85 CA, 126 CL, and well over 700 destroyers. The Amphibious fleet numbered well over 2,000 vessels that deserved the title of “ship” as well as thousands of landing craft that would ferry the Allied armies back to Europe.
With the background now established, it is time to review the events of D-Day themselves.