He had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

When I recently noted that Hitler’s strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless, it wasn’t because I had just read How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, but because I was reading William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and it kept making points that seemed familiar from my long-ago skimming of the intro to Bevin Alexander’s book:

In truth neither Hitler, the High Command nor the general staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had ever seriously considered how a war with Great Britain could be fought and won. Now in the midsummer of 1940 they did not know what to do with their glittering success; they had no plans and scarcely any will for exploiting the greatest military victories in the history of their soldiering nation.

This is one of the great paradoxes of the Third Reich. At the very moment when Hitler stood at the zenith of his military power, with most of the European Continent at his feet, his victorious armies stretched from the Pyrenees to the Arctic Circle, from the Atlantic to beyond the Vistula, rested now and ready for further action, he had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion.


The Germans, despite their vaunted military talents, lacked any grand strategic concept. Their horizons were limited — they had always been limited — to land warfare against the neighboring nations on the European Continent. Hitler himself had a horror of the sea and his great captains almost a total ignorance of it.


There was of course another alternative open to the Germans. They might bring Britain down by striking across the Mediterranean with their Italian ally, taking Gibraltar at its western opening and in the east driving on from Italy’s bases in North Africa through Egypt and over the canal to Iran, severing one of the Empire’s main life lines. But this necessitated vast operations overseas at distances far from home bases, and in 1940 it seemed beyond the scope of the German imagination.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Based on earlier recommendations, I am now half-way through Sean McMeekin’s well-written Stalin’s War. That book seems to tie in fairly well with some of the themes of Hoover’s “Freedom Betrayed”.

    Where Hoover expected Germany and the USSR to fight to exhaustion and then have the Western allies clean up the mess, Stalin had been working for years to have the Capitalist Western countries fight each other to exhaustion and then have the USSR step in and impose Communism. The surprise to Stalin was that France collapsed so quickly and with so little attrition of German fighting power.

    McMeekin points out that by the time of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Stalin had invaded 7 countries — Manchuria, Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, & Romania — the same number of countries invaded by Hitler at that point.

    Just as a thought, it may be that Hitler had not at the beginning ever expected to fight against Britain (and its big brother, the US). Hitler’s strategic aim was always to go east and claim land & resources from Eastern Europe and the USSR. If the English & French had not so foolishly declared war on Germany (but not on the equally war-mongering USSR), there would have been no need to occupy France.

    Even once France was occupied and the English had been pushed off the continent, there was no need to be diverted into trying to invade the British Isles — they could simply have been ignored.

    Perhaps the story of WWII is a reminder that no plan (Seek Lebensraum in the East) survives contact with the enemy. Germany must have been quite surprised by the willingness of the Brits & Americans to ignore Stalin’s warmongering and support him despite his open aims to overthrow their Capitalist countries.

  2. Albion says:

    It is an interesting thought that Britain in particular had no wish to fight against Stalin’s empire, but in a way it was another world away. The direct threat was from Germany.

    However it is worth noting that the UK in the 1930s had some very prominent communists and communist sympathisers who believed–as so many pretend-intellectuals often do–that socialism in any form can only be good.

    The disadvantage of allying with the USSR was revealed in the late 1940s with the Berlin airlift to keep the allied half of the city alive, but by then Britain had elected a narrow-vision Labour government intent on throwing all of Britain’s industry to the great god of Nationalisation as well as foisting an increasingly strained NHS on the nation.

    We on this side of the Atlantic were undermined by the lefties, as always.

  3. Szopen says:

    “If the English & French had not so foolishly declared war”

    You do know that Poland and France had a military alliance?

  4. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Szopen: “You do know that Poland and France had a military alliance?”

    Oh well! That changes everything!

    To be serious, that was the cause of the 1939 “Phony War”, when France & England declared war on Germany (i.e., they started the war!), and then did nothing significant to help Poland. They had signed a military alliance without thinking things through. Not dissimilar to Resident Biden* closing down Bagram before withdrawing from Afghanistan. Politicians do stupid things … then, and now.

    The English version of that treaty committed His Majesty to coming to the aid of Poland if Germany attacked it — but not if the USSR attacked it. Why not?

    To summarize, politicians do stupid things and sign silly treaties. Equally stupid was Hitler’s decision to declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor because of a German/Japanese treaty. Smart politicians would realize when to trash-can their treaties.

  5. Szopen says:

    I have the impression that you are only taking the German perspective into an account, without thinking that there can exist other perspectives. For example, you say it was foolish to give Poland guarantees, but then you don’t consider how foolish it was for Hitler to ignore those guarantees and start the war despite the allies letting him know that, yes, absolutely that would mean war with England and France.

    You also do not consider the French perspective. Why shouldn’t the French be afraid about Lorraine and Alsace? I am not saying that Hitler would necessarily eventually start a war over Alsace and Lorraine, but given his actions, this was a possibility the French had to consider. Why then should the French just wait and let Hitler consume more territories? Why should they just wait while he would get stronger and stronger? That would be foolish. Rejuvenation of the Polish alliance should make Hitler wary. If he would be a reasonable and clever man, he should be deterred. Who could have thought that he would be so stupid as to make this foolish decision to start the war nevertheless?

    Because it was Hitler who started the war, knowing 100% that this would mean that England and France would join the war on the Polish side. British diplmats made it absolutely clear to him, what his attack on Poland would mean, specifically stating that they want to avoid any ambiguities.

  6. VXXC says:

    Well in 2021 here’s a question: Where do WE go from here? We the People? Or We the Government/Democrats [same]?

    Not so easy to answer, is it?

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Szopen: “I have the impression that you are only taking the German perspective into an account, without thinking that there can exist other perspectives.”

    Let me direct you to my earlier statement: “Perhaps the story of WWII is a reminder that no plan…survives contact with the enemy.” And that applies to everyone — English, French, Norwegian, Latvian, Soviet.

    For so many years, I subscribed to the “Good War” thesis about WWII. Then I started to read more widely, and realized there was a lack of White Hats in reality.

    Britain & France were then colonial empires, happily exploiting little brown people around the world. They officially started the war to protect Poland, and ended the war by abandoning the Polish people to Stalin. Even if we credit the English & French with good intentions with respect to Polish independence, they were so incompetent that issuing an empty Declaration of War was the only thing they could do in 1939, triggering the Phony War; they had no physical ability to do anything constructive to help Poland when it was invaded by both Germany and the USSR.

    Germany and Austria had been very badly treated by the Allies after WWI — with the English maintaining a trade embargo after the end of the war which led to starvation in Europe. Hitler was undoubtedly a bad guy, but the Allies had provided the genuine grievances which he was able to exploit. The pusillanimous English & French had then stood aside while Hitler & his military started their expansion, with the aim of pulling all the German-speaking people into one state.

    I can understand why someone like Hitler might think that English & French objections to Germany reclaiming the majority-German city of Danzig from Poland were probably empty words. I can also understand strategically why a dictator who intended to go East decided he first had to slap down the Phony Warriors on his Western front.

    The roles of both FDR and Stalin in promoting world war also have to be recognized. No White Hats!

  8. Lucklucky says:

    “with the English maintaining a trade embargo after the end of the war which led to starvation in Europe.”

    Really!? Since when did continental Europe need food from elsewhere?

    The fault was not in the Allied grand strategy; it was in the Allied military competence and fate. If Georges had not been hit in the assassination of Yugoslav King Alexander and had a long recovery, he might have been at the helm of the Allied armies in 1940 instead of Gamelin. He did not fancy sending the best French Army North and in Belgium Netherlands so the Battle of France should have been different.

    I second the idea that Stalin attacking does not fit Soviet behavior after the French defeat. They continued to collaborate actively with the Nazis. In May 1941 the American Communists were releasing music to support isolationism. Communist Unions were sabotaging the British war effort like they did in French industries. The Soviet Union was at Germany’s side until the German attack.

  9. Cassander says:

    It was not foolish for france and the UK to declare war on germany, it was foolish to declare war and then sit back and let germany conquer poland without doing anything to stop them. The germans almost certainly could not have fought a two front war successfully at that point.

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Lucklucky: “Really!? Since when did continental Europe need food from elsewhere?”

    Yes, really, Lucky. Do some research. After the end of fighting in World War One, the English continued their blockade of the Central European Powers. People starved in Europe. Europe, then as now, required imports of food. Especially then, since farm workers had been drafted into the military and agriculture had suffered.

    The Allied treatment of Germany & Austria after World War One was foolishly harsh. John Maynard Keynes (heard of him?) wrote at the time in “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” that the Treaty of Versailles would lead to further war.

    That is not to excuse Hitler, who definitely was a Black Hat. But so were so many other people on all sides of World War Two.

  11. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Cassander: “it was foolish to declare war and then sit back and let germany conquer poland without doing anything to stop them.”

    Cassander — that is exactly the point. The English and French could do nothing to stop Germany in Poland. That is why their Declaration of War was the start of the Phony War — which stayed Phony until Hitler decided he could not go East without first subduing the countries which had declared war on him in the West.

    I understand this is painful for a lot of people, because we were all brought up with the “Good War” thesis. Just dig into the history, and make up your own mind.

    Ask yourself — England & France declared war on Germany because it invaded Poland. Stalin invaded Poland too at the same time, and actually took more than half of Polish territory. Why did England & France have no problem with the USSR invading Poland?

  12. Cassander says:


    There was a lot they could do. They could invade Germany. Almost the whole German army was in the east. They could have taken the industrial heartland and crippled Germany’s ability to fight. They chose not to.

    They considered declaring war on Stalin. They decided they didn’t need two enemies. There’s a reason Stalin waited until the Polish state was all but gone to take his share.

  13. Sam J. says:

    “In truth neither Hitler, the High Command nor the general staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had ever seriously considered how a war with Great Britain could be fought and won.”

    This is silly. Why would they want to invade England? They built a vast submarine fleet and until the US got involved were close to creating starvation in England. Towards the end of the war the Germans made a sub that most all after have followed it’s example.


    Let’s not mention the V1,V2 and V3 cannon and rockets. They had a plan but not the resources to carry it out.

  14. Cassander says:


    The UK came closer to starving in WW1 than WW2. The UK had large programs for escorts and had spent a lot of time working on the problem. They could have defeated the threat on their own not much later than they did with US assistance. And by the time the Type 21s came out, there were just far too many escorts.

    And the V-weapons were not a plan to defeat anyone.

  15. Lucklucky says:

    There wasn’t any “VAST” German submarine fleet in 1940, and they had severe issues with torpedoes.

  16. Sam J. says:

    You guys are changing the subject. I did in no way say the Germans “won” the battle in the Atlantic. I was responding to this:

    “In truth neither Hitler, the High Command nor the general staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had ever seriously considered how a war with Great Britain could be fought and won.”

    I said that was nonsense and still say it was nonsense. They had a plan, but it didn’t work. That they were almost successful in WWI is exactly why they tried it in WWII.

    You are trying to negate what I said by changing the subject to be “that they failed to do so” which is a different thing altogether from saying they had no plan.

    They built a vast number of subs, but they were sunk, because the British broke their codes, and they had radar to find the subs. In response, which I linked, the Germans built a sub with stealth mast for the periscopes and air intakes and a huge battery storage that would give them a large range. It was also the first ever sub designed to stay underwater all the time.

    “And the V-weapons were not a plan to defeat anyone.”

    “If” their plan had worked, which it didn’t, stopping food and arms reaching England, combined with a continuous rain of 1,000 kg bombs raining down on peoples heads is a plan to demoralize the British and make them sue for peace. That they couldn’t make enough to be decisive or have the resources to do so doesn’t negate the fact that was what they were planning and doing. And without US food, materials, supplies and Men it would have probably worked.

    They had assembly lines for the V2, and the V3 was close to being finished. The V3 would have multiplied the amount of bombs dropping on London by a huge amount. Really large numbers, but it was destroyed.

    It didn’t work because the US came in with enough air power, men, and materiel to stop it.

    And don’t take this to mean that I in any way am denying the British of their sacrifice and determination, but it doesn’t change the fact that without the endless stream of resources the US brought to the war, it’s very likely the British would have lost or made peace with Hitler.

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