Axis and Allied Choices for War in 1940

17 Nov

THE AXIS CHOICE: 1939 – 1940

Germany’s ‘Lebensraum’
The choice made for Germany by Hitler as espoused to his military commanders in May of 1939 was that of Lebensraum, or ‘living space’: “As Hitler explained to his military commanders on May 23, 1939, the object of war was not Danzig but the expansion of Germany’s Lebensraum.”[1] The impetus for Germany’s, and Hitler’s choices was brought about as a result of the retribution he sought from ‘a stab in the back’ by the German home-front to its army in 1918. Hitler’s choice or doctrine of Lebensraum held even more evil components which will be detailed later. This choice was thinly disguised early in the war as a ‘westward expansion’ but the Soviets would soon discover otherwise: “Though some may consider him insane for attempting to implement the doctrine of Lebensraum, of living space, it was the essence of his policies at all times. Even the reality of internal German migration westward did not deter Hitler from attempting tom lay the foundation for an external migration eastward.”[2] Hitler’s choice of eastward migration into the Soviet frontier in June of 1941in ‘Operation Barbarossa’ is legendary; moreover, the poor choices or decisions to progress deeper into Soviet territory during the coldest winter in 140 years, followed by the over-extensions of supply lines doomed his ‘eastward migration’. Germany’s choices made by Hitler in 1939 and 1940 gave him an ill-fated and false sense of security and over-confidence. His ‘hollow’ victories over Poland, France, Great Britain, Norway and Czechoslovakia to a lesser extent in 1938; all led him to believe that he could win his eastern front war-initiative (‘Operation Barbarossa’) in 1941 and take on the US with his declaration of war against her on 11 December 1941. Hitler’s most heinous and evil choice was his concept of a ‘perfect race’ which resulted in the extermination of an estimated six million Jews through Europe; all a function to his form ‘Lebensraum’.

Italy’s choices were limited. Mussolini’s designs on Italian imperialism throughout the Mediterranean offered him two choices: side with the Allies and have no new territories or side with Germany and wait for the spoils of war; or what crumbs Hitler would throw his way. From Weinberg: “If the Allies won – as he sometimes feared and as Ciano expected – they would hem in Italy’s position permanently. If Germany won without Italian help, Italy would not only get nothing for herself but could end up under German domination, something Mussolini feared.”[3]

The choices at the doorstep of Japan were many. Continue their war with China with their imperialistic eye ever southward throughout the Pacific. Japan found herself in need of some of the same basic raw materials as Germany; materials such as oil, and those needed to survive as a nation at war, which her own land could not provide. An advance into Southeast Asia was also attractive as noted by Weinberg: “… a Japanese advance into Southeast Asia could – in the eyes of the Japanese – contribute to ending the war in China by cutting off the supplies Chiang was getting by railway across northern French Indo-China and by road from northern Burma.”[4] The concept of a vast Japanese empire was further fueled by the Tripartite pact with Germany and Italy as well as neutrality agreement with the Soviet Union.[5]

ALLIED* CHOICES: 1939 – 1940

Following the historic French military collapse in 1940 against Germany’s Wehrmacht and its ‘Blitzkreig’ into France through the Ardennes and from the north, [6] France found itself a country divided between the new Vichy leadership and former government. The choices existed whether to side with a losing Britain or with that of a winning Hitler.[7] There was shrewd political maneuvering on the part of Hitler which ultimately resulted in the Franco-Italian armistice and whose success resulted in the Franco-German armistice. [8] For France, left with limited choices, as Weinberg notes, “the war appeared to be over.” As Niall Ferguson offers in The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, there was an air of ‘French Defeatism’ in France – they had given up; not wanting to “pursue another Pyrrhic victory.” [9]

Great Britain
Great Britain had very few choices but to seek help from the United States during this period. Following the evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk in June of 1940, Winston Churchill’s ‘sigh of relief blew across the Atlantic Ocean’ and was felt in Washington on the morning of 7 December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1940 however, British choices were limited to a defensive stance at sea by its navy; and, a bombing strategy against Germany as well as air-cover over the homeland. Fortunately for Great Britain, the US was being slowly pulled into the war in 1940; in concern for and defense of its trans-Atlantic shipping as well as its build-up of military forces. Weinberg notes of the US destroyers-for-bases deal: “As Roosevelt saw these issues being resolved in a way that involved great political risks at home but with a Britain appearing to have at least some chance of holding on, agreement was reached and the destroyers reactivated for transfer.”[10]

The outlook was not as narrow or bleak for the Soviet Union from 1939 through 1940. Save for the 1939 – 1940 ‘Winter War’ with Finland, the more positive choice included the joint ‘move’ with Germany on Poland in 1939. Outside of territorial conquest, the Soviet interrelationships with Italy and Japan were much more complex, and drew upon those successful movements by Germany. Weinberg, in summarizing the complex relationships between the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Germany and the “misassessment of German intentions” notes that: “… the British made their choices in late 1940 and early 1941 on the assumption that they still faced invasion, while the Soviets made theirs on the assumption that they did not.”[11]

*The Soviets would be considered an Ally after June of 1941.

While not critical, Weinberg offers very little mention in the first three chapters of the ‘North African Campaign’ which took place from June 1940 to May 1943. He does address these battles later in the book; however, I would have enjoyed his perspective (within the context of chapters two and three) on Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Vichy French leaders in this theater.

[1] Gerhard L.Weinberg,  A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 44.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 74.
[4] Ibid., 166.
[5] Ibid., 170.
[6] Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005) 145.
[7] Gerhard L.Weinberg,  A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 140.
[8] Ibid., 141.
[9] Naill Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. (New York: Penguin Books, 2006) 389-390.
[10] Gerhard L.Weinberg,  A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 158.
[11] Ibid., 165-166.

Ferguson, Naill. The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in WWII Germany


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