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"When Herr Hitler escaped his bomb on 20th July he described his survival as providential; I think that from a purely military point of view we can all agree with him, for certainly it would be most unfortunate if the Allies were to be deprived, in the closing phases of the struggle, of that form of warlike genius by which Corporal Schickelgruber has so notably contributed to our victory."
Winston Churchill, 28 September 1944



The Western Front

The Great War, the war that "made the world safe for democracy," had created tremendous dislocations which laid the groundwork for the collapse of democratic institutions in Europe, and set the stage for a second German attempt at conquest. The experience of the Great War compelled the Western democracies to develop alternative strategies and policies to support their national-security interests. The United States sought security through arms-limitation treaties, strict isolationism and neutrality laws. France, morbidly obsessed by the prospect of German resurgence, negotiated a web of alliances and tried to maintain its military preeminence (at least on paper.) Great Britain pinned its hopes for post-war security on participation in an activist League of Nations and a new European concert system. When these failed, both Britain and France turned to appeasement.

For their part, the Germans and Italians embarked on a different course founded on extreme nationalism, autarchy, rearmament and revision of the hated Versailles settlement. The Japanese defined national security in terms of an East Asian hegemony defended by powerful armed forces.

In October 1929, the Great Depression wreaked havoc throughout the world. Hitler's Nationalist Socialist Democratic Workers Party (Nazis) emerged as the majority party in Germany in the 1930 election, and President Hindenberg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Germany withdrew from the League of Nations in October 1933, and on 07 March 1936 German reoccupied the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty which had ended the Great War.

The crucial moment occurred during the Munich crisis in September 1938. Those Germans who were opposed to an invasion of Czechoslovakia, including several senior army officers, hoped that a strong stand by Britain would force Hitler to desist, and would perhaps even bring his regime down. German emissaries to Britain put this case to leading politicians and diplomats. But Neville Chamberlain's decision to accept, and indeed to promote, a compromise--whereby Czechoslovakia would cede the Sudetenland to Germany and Hitler get his immediate desires without a war--dashed the hopes of those Germans who wanted Hitler's order to march into Czechoslovakia to be the signal for the Fuhrer's overthrow.

On 30 September 1938 Hitler announced plans to annex the German Sudentenland, which had been transfered from Germany to Czechoslovakia by the Versailles Treaty, and on 14 March 1939 Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Adolf Hitler started the war in a bid to conquer the continent of Europe. After the conquest of Europe and its consolidation under Nazi rule, Hitler envisioned fighting further wars that would make Germany into a global superpower. Hitler aimed at nothing less than to enslave and exterminate whole peoples whom he deemed "inferior."

In Das Jahr 2000, Das Reich, 25 February 1945, pp. 1-2, Goebbels wrote that "The Fhrer made numerous proposals to London, the last time four weeks before the war began. He proposed that German and British foreign policy work together, that the Reich would respect Englands sea power as England would respect the Reichs land power, and that parity would exist in the air. Both powers would join in guaranteeing world peace, and the British Empire would be a critical component of that peace. Germany would even be ready to defend that Empire with military means if it were necessary. Under such conditions, Bolshevism would have been confined to its original breeding grounds. It would have been sealed off from the rest of the world."

The Allies Respond

Soon after the United States entered the war, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union (at war with Germany since June 22, 1941) decided that their primary military effort was to be concentrated in Europe.

The Americans believed and consistently maintained that Germany's defeat "could only be effected by direct military action," and that that action must be directed against the main body of the German Army in the west. The British thought Germany might be defeated primarily by destroying the enemy's will to resist through air attack and encirclement. They reasoned that "Germany's will to fight depended largely on her confidence in ultimate success." Repeated victories by Russia and the Western Allies, even if on the perimeter of the German Lebensraum, would make Germany "realize that the prospects were hopeless." If despite that realization the Germans still refused to surrender, then direct attack from the west would be employed to deal the deciding blow. The US Chiefs of Staff did not discount the possibility of a sudden German collapse. On the whole, however, they held firm to the conviction that neither the air offensive nor victories in the Mediterranean could so significantly weaken the German's will to resist as to justify prolonged delay in mounting the final attack.

The divergent perspectives of the Allies on the European war were reflected in the conflict between British and American strategy. The British wanted to attack the German Army at the periphery of the Continent, what Churchill termed the "soft underbelly," and launch a large-scale invasion of the Continent as the final knock-out blow. The United States wanted to launch a large-scale invasion as early as possible to meet the enemy head on and inflict a decisive defeat, ending the war against Germany quickly with the least political complication. The Russians, fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front since 1941, wanted a second front on the West as soon possible.

As American combat strength increased through the early stages of the war, Allied forces launched their first offensive actions. One of these involved mounting a major raid on the French port of Dieppe in order to not only foster German fears of an attack on the Western front thereby forcing them to divert resources from other areas of operations, but also to provide allied forces with an opportunity to test new techniques and equipment while gaining experience on amphibious assault operations.

Initially planned for July 1942, the raid did not take place until August 19, 1942. Involving more than 6,000 troops, most of which were Canadians, eight Allied destroyers and 74 air squadrons, the raid called for attacks at five different locations along a 16-kilometer front. The first four attacks would take place just before dawn and would be followed by the main attack on Dieppe.

The raid ended during the early afternoon of that day. It resulted in more than 3,000 casualties, including almost 2,000 prisoners of war. Only 2,210 Canadians returned to England, out of the 4,963 who initially took part in the operation. While not a success, the operation did nevertheless set the stage for the eventual success of Operation Overlord, by forcing improvements to be made in tactics, techniques and fire support.

The US Chiefs of Staff since July 1942 had veered toward a decision to increase substantially the effort in the Pacific. They spelled out their new point of view to the British for the first time at Casablanca in January 1942. The United States desired to maintain pressure against the Japanese, General Marshall told the British Chiefs of Staff, in order to forestall another "series of crises," which had wrecked offensive plans in the early part of 1942.

Maintaining pressure, of course, meant mounting attacks. Admiral King estimated that the attacks considered necessary would require roughly double the US forces then in the Pacific. There was a danger, he pointed out, that without a great effort to assist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek China might pull out of the war. General Marshall added that helping China carry the fight against Japan "might have a most favorable effect on Stalin." The US Chiefs of Staff therefore especially recommended pushing operations in Burma. The British frankly did not like this new attitude. In general they regarded the Pacific in much the same light as General Marshall regarded the Mediterranean - an invitation to diversions from the main effort.

Initial western operations in the Mediterranean consisted of invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and then Italy. In November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa. By May 1943, the British and Americans had cleared the Germans from North Africa. Next, they began a campaign against Italy, which soon resulted in the surrender of the Italian government. Although German soldiers continued fighting in Italy for the remainder of the war, the Allied victory secured the British lifeline to Asia through the Mediterranean.

Throughout 1942, British and German forces fought inconclusive back-and-forth battles across Libya and Egypt for control of the Suez Canal. But on 23 October 1942, British forces commanded by General Sir Bernard Montgomery struck at the Germans from El Alamein. Equipped with a thousand tanks, many made in America, they defeated General Erwin Rommels army in a grinding two-week campaign. On November 7, American and British armed forces landed in French North Africa. Squeezed between forces advancing from east and west, the Germans were pushed back and, after fierce resistance, surrendered in May 1943.

The year 1942 was also the turning point on the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union, suffering immense losses, stopped the Nazi invasion at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. In the winter of 1942-43, the Red Army defeated the Germans at Stalingrad (Volgograd) and began the long offensive that would take them to Berlin in 1945.

In July 1943 British and American forces invaded Sicily and won control of the island in a month. During that time, Benito Mussolini fell from power in Italy. His successors began negotiations with the Allies and surrendered immediately after the invasion of the Italian mainland in September. However, the German Army had by then taken control of the peninsula. The fight against Nazi forces in Italy was bitter and protracted. Rome was not liberated until June 4, 1944. As the Allies slowly moved north, they built airfields from which they made devastating air raids against railroads, factories, and weapon emplacements in southern Germany and central Europe, including the oil installations at Ploesti, Romania.

In August 1943 the Western partners agreed that a major cross-Channel attack -- Operation OVERLORD -- would be launched in the spring of 1944. Germany, deceived by Gen. Patton's operations, expected an Allied invasion between Dover and Calais. The front in France would compel the Germans to divert far larger forces from the Soviet Union.

U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. After immense preparations, on June 6, 1944, a U.S., British, and Canadian invasion army, protected by a greatly superior air force, landed on five beaches in Normandy. With the beachheads established after heavy fighting, more troops poured in, and pushed the Germans back in one bloody engagement after another. On August 25 Paris was liberated.

The Allied offensive stalled that fall, then suffered a setback in eastern Belgium during the winter, but in March, the Americans and British were across the Rhine and the Russians advancing irresistibly from the East. On May 7, Germany surrendered unconditionally.


"There is also a possibility that after the organised resistance of the German army and State is completely broken, fierce warfare may be maintained in the forests and mountains of Germany by numbers of desperate men, conscious of their own guilt and impending doom. These, of course, would, at a certain stage, deserve the treatment which the Germans have so ruthlessly meted out to guerilla movements in other countries. It may be necessary for the Allies to declare at a certain date that the actual warfare against the German State has come to an end and that a period of mopping up of bandits and war criminals has begun. No one can foresee exactly what form the death agony of Nazidom will take. For us, the important decision will be to choose the moment when substantial Forces can be withdrawn from Europe to intensify the war against Japan. We certainly do not consider that the declared date of the ending of the war against Germany must necessarily be postponed until the last desperado has been tracked down in his last lair. "

Winston Churchill, 28 September 1944

Unconditional Surrender

Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of a policy of unconditional surrender camee at Casablanca in January 1943. Whatever the tactical considerations, such as allaying Stalin's suspicions that his Western partners would make a separate peace with Hitler, unconditional surrender was a propaganda windfall for the Nazis. It played directly to the Goebbels line that Germany's back was to the wall and that defeat would mean Germany's total destruction.

In light of the available evidence, it is reasonable to suppose that if Roosevelt and Churchill had made even a gesture of moderation or support for the resistance after the 20 July 1944 bomb blast, the generals in command of the German armies in France would have agreed to a unilateral surrender, in spite of Hitler's survival. But Roosevelt said nothing and Churchill dismissed the bomb as ``a disturbance in the German war machine.'' Ironically, the only people who uttered a word on the plotters' behalf were the Russians. ``Generals, officers, soldiers!'' said Radio Moscow. ``Cease fire at once and turn your arms against Hitler. Do not fail these courageous men!''

A negotiated peace with anti-Nazi Germans in early or even mid-1944 probably could have saved the lives of two million soldiers - and three million Jews. East Germany and perhaps much of Eastern Europe would have been spared 50 years of incarceration in the twilight world of Soviet Communism.



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