To address this question one needs to consider the different aspects of German strategy. Specifically these include their military, their economy, and their political agendas. In addition to highlighting their flaws, it may also be useful to compare and contrast with Great Britain, whose strategy was ultimately successful. Alternatively, it could be argued that Germany’s strategy was not exactly flawed. Instead other countries had a superior strategy which was the chief reason for their failure.
German pursuit and focus on a land war, which proved to be a mistake, will also be discussed in terms of how much it contributed to the overall failure. A discussion of Hitler’s leadership style will highlight the considerable impact it had on German strategy which was the main cause of German failure, not their strategy itself. All these factors will be considered in the conclusion and will determine the fundamental flaws of Germany Strategy during the Second World War.
Throughout history Germany has been plagued with a fear of invasion due to their geographical location, at the centre of the European continent with no access to an open ocean. This sense of vulnerability led them to favour pre-emptive strikes which resulted in the problem of a two-front war. Situated on their eastern border was Russia, while on the western border was France, both of whom had allied together for mutual protection by bracketing Germany.
An example of this can be derived from the French-Russian Mutual Assistance Pact (2 May 1935). However, in 1939 they managed to overcome the problem of a two-front war by signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, thereby dealing with the eastern threat1. They then turned their attention onto Poland, who became encircled with the Soviets invading from the east while they invaded from the west. With no prospects of winning, or retreating, Poland was swiftly defeated within a few weeks2. Meanwhile, Germany continued ignoring the international community’s demand to abandon their expansionistic aims. Consequently, the rest of ‘free’ Europe, including Britain’s dominions, was forced to declare war on Germany.
“…German’s military power in the period 1939-1941 was by no means as great as was believed at the time, she did possess decisive short term advantages in Hitler’s willingness to gamble…the superior professional skills and very high moral of her armed forces; and weakness and disunity of her opponents whose main aim was to postpone a decisive conflict for several years while they frantically rearmed. Thus the western allies did nothing substantial to aid Poland…”
Germany’s invasion of Poland was followed by their swift conflict of Finland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and The Netherlands (the lower countries included). In effect, Germany had managed to capture the majority of Europe and instilled puppet-governments, controlled by their own administration. An example of this was the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (NSB- National Socialist Movement) in the Netherlands and in Vichy regime in France, both of whom openly collaborated with Nazi-Germany. The few states who claimed neutrality, such as Spain, Switzerland, and Finland, aided Germany with raw materials. Allegedly, their actions could be viewed as being sympathetic to the German cause. The exception was Britain and Germany responded with air bombardment, using the Blitzkrieg method.
Debatably, Germany was assured of victory during this timeline as their sole task was to obliterate a lone Britain in order to control the whole of Europe. Yet, instead of following this logical course of action they committed two vital errors. Firstly, they fired upon an American convoy ship, creating tensions. This provided Britain with an opportunity to garner help and sympathy from America4. Secondly, they commenced a siege against the Soviet Union thereby diverting their forces from the fighting Britain in the west, to fighting the USSR in the east. Therefore, despite having overcome the problem of a two-front war they nevertheless became embroiled in one.
Arguably, both events were inevitable. For instance, Hitler’s policy of racial annihilation compelled him to go eastwards, meaning there was no alternate course of action available to avoid a two-front war. In addition, he wished to deprive the USSR of her industrial and agricultural bases in the west, thereby reducing her economic power. Simultaneously, sinking an American ship was unavoidable as technology had not yet advanced to allow an underwater submarine to determine what type of ship it was to strike, unless they surfaced. But taking such a course would leave them exposed and in danger. Therefore, German strategists were not too concerned with accidently striking American ships, particularly when they were supplying their enemy with resources6.
Another fundamental flaw in the German’s strategy can be derived from their racial policy, which determined their war strategy, especially towards Eastern Europe. For instance, when German forces captured the Russian province of Ukraine they were initially greeted with open arms. This was largely due to the Ukrainians dissatisfaction of being under Soviet control. Germany could have exploited this to gain an ally7. Instead, they opted to exterminate the Jewish residents, thereby alienating the local population and destroying any potential political collaboration. “…the Union of the South-East, Central Russia and Siberia… Courland, Estonia, Lithuania and Livonia. This area and the Ukraine, under German economic domination, would become an autarky, largely independent of the outside world.”8
In accordance to the economical principal of autarky Germany was solely dependent on its conquered territories. Germany was forced to rely on what they could produce. However, this proved problematic and resulted in shortages of certain raw materials their territories did not posses. For example, after occupation Germany relied on the Ukraine to produce necessary resources, like grain. However, the ruthless extermination of half their population created feelings of resentment amongst the survivors. This meant that Germany could not trust the local population to be constantly in production. To achieve optimum production meant military troops had to be permanently stationed there to keep order.
Therefore, vital forces needed on the western front were not readily available. However, the required presence of troops would not have been necessary if they had used diplomacy and tact. Perhaps the cause behind Germany’s poor interaction with other countries could be attributed to their dictatorship administration. Dictatorships are not accountable to the people as they are based on militaristic rule. This meant that their administration did not encompass politicians or diplomacy akin to a democratic state, particularly in affairs of foreign policy. This is more evident when in comparison to Britain. For example, although there was dislike and tension between the democratic British and the communist Soviets they both became allies for duration of the war, unlike Germany and Ukraine who could not manage to do so.