When Did Hitler Lose The War ?

When did Adolf Hitler lose the chance to win World War 2 ? What was the moment in time that before it, he could still possibly win the war, and after it, his defeat was a matter of time ?

How about starting from a relatively late date, when we're sure that Hitler's defeat was just a matter of time, and from there go back in time to a date that marks the tipping point, that marks when Adolf Hitler lost the chance to win the war that he started. Let's see...

In the summer of 1944, with massive and unstoppable forces of the western allies pushing from west and south, and massive unstoppable Russian forces pushing from east, and with devastating massive air bombardment, both tactical and strategic, that the exhausted Luftwaffe could not stop, and with his submarines now being the hunted instead of hunters, it's obvious that Hitler had already lost the war. So that's a good starting point. Now let's step back in time.

In mid-1944, before D-Day, Russia was already unstoppable, even without an invasion of France. The part of the western allies was of course very significant. The threat of an invasion that kept a significant part of the German forces in the West, the air war that increasingly eroded Germany's ability to support its war effort, and the continuing massive material support by the western allies to Russia, were all very important contributing factors. But I think we can agree that by mid-1944, Germany was already losing the war, because although it kept fighting fiercely, it could not stop Russia's continued advance all over Eastern Europe, towards Berlin.

If we look further back in time, we can safely say that with the failure of Germany's last major attack, in Kursk in mid 1943, Germany was no longer able to defeat Russia.

But if we look deeper into the details of the situation then, we can say that although Kursk was the German Army's last major attack, it already had no hope even earlier. If we look in the details of the Kursk campaign, and in those of the Stalingrad campaign that ended half a year earlier, then we can go back to the Stalingrad campaign in late 1942 and say that when the Russians began their huge counter attack that encircled the massive German forces in and around Stalingrad, then Germany lost the strategic initiative and its ability to stop Russia.

After Stalingrad, it was clear to many that Germany was fighting a lost war. But what if Germany had swiftly taken or bypassed Stalingrad in the summer of 1942, and kept pushing further East and South in the endless prairies of South Russia to the Caspian Sea ? Would that have changed the final outcome? No, that could only delay it, because the outcome of the war was already decided earlier.

The tipping point

In his book "Modern Times", Paul Johnson clearly marks the exact point in time when the outcome of the war was decided. His analysis is shared by other top authors, and was also shared by British prime minister Winston Churchill at the time of events as they happened. Wartime reports by German generals let us see it clearly from the German military's point of view.

It's obvious that Hitler gambled everything by invading Russia, that attacking Russia and then failing to defeat it could only mean that Germany would be defeated.

When the German invasion of Russia began in June 1941, Germany could potentially defeat Russia and win the war. Its initial victories were tremendous. Russian losses in men, equipment, and territory, were unbelievably enormous. But Russia is HUGE, with endless resources, its soldiers are tough, and its winter is terrible for anyone not fully equipped for it, and the German military was definitely NOT equipped for the Russian winter, and knew it.

But in the first weeks of the invasion, the German successes were such that the over-confident Hitler decided that he wants to occupy the rich Ukraine in the South even before taking Moscow, the heart of Russia. To do so, he ordered to stop the advance of Army Group "Center" to Moscow, and to give its two tank armies to Army Groups "North" and "South". This was perhaps Hitler's greatest mistake, and his generals argued a lot against it, but in vain.

After spending more than a month on this diversion, on September 6th 1941 Hitler realized that he was running out of time in his race to defeat Russia before winter, which his war plan considered a major condition with no alternative.

So then he ordered to concentrate forces again in an all-or-nothing effort to take Moscow "In the limited time before winter". Army Group "Center" received its two tank armies back, plus a third tank army and additional air units. On October 2nd 1941, the German military began its final assault towards Moscow. In the 2nd week of October, there was a confident German announcement that the outcome of the war has been decided and Russia is defeated.

But then the Russian winter began. Rains and deep mud slowed the German tanks and infantry almost to a standstill. The advance resumed a month later, once the mud was frozen by the dropping temperature. In German cities, an emergency effort began, to collect winter clothing for their ill-equipped soldiers in Russia, who still fought in their summer uniform.

By the end of November 1941, the German armor spearheads reached a distance of just 27km from the center of Moscow, but could advance no further, due to strong Russian resistance, and the temperature dropped to around -34C (-29F). The foremost German observers could see the tips of the towers of the Kremlin, but General Erich Hoepner, the commander of the leading Panzer Group 4, reported that his force "reached its utmost limit, with physical and mental exhaustion, unbearable shortage of personnel, and lack of winter clothing".

General Wagner, the German army's top logistics officer, wrote a report that was summarized by the chief of staff with: "we reached our limit in terms of personnel and equipment".

And then, on December 6th 1941, the Russian army counter-attacked the exhausted Germans with massive fresh reinforcement units which came from Siberia and the Russian far east, and forced the German armies to a deep retreat, for the first time.

The next day, on December 7th 1941, the Russian news agency announced the first German defeat since the invasion began. On the same day, Japan attacked the US in Pearl Harbor, and the US joined the war with its immense military potential. And on that day, Hitler ordered to cease the German attack and shift to defense.

A week later, General Hoepner reported "my 22 divisions face 43 Russian divisions, none of my divisions is capable of attack or of defending against a stronger force. All my positions are endangered. No fuel, no food for the horses, the soldiers fall asleep standing, everything is frozen, the soil is frozen a meter deep, which makes digging impossible".

As Paul Johnson writes, "at this stage it was clear that Operation Barbarossa had failed. A totally new strategy was needed". But instead of that, on December 19, 1941, Hitler, the German dictator, and a former WWI army corporal, appointed himself as the new commander-in-chief of the German Army, and personally managed the ground war since then. He no longer trusted his gifted generals, the highly professional leaders of the world's most effective military machine then, to win the war for him. He thought that he can succeed where they failed, and ignored most of their advices since. He totally forbade any retreats, a limiting constraint which neutralized key advantages of the German forces, and which cost them almost a third of German manpower in Russia before the end of that winter. General Halder, the Army HQ chief of staff, wrote : "Hitler's constant underestimation of the enemy is becoming grotesque".

In 1941, Russia survived a tremendous blow. Barely, and with horrible losses, but it survived it, and from that point on, it became ever stronger. Germany, on the other hand, had pushed itself to the limit and beyond, but that was not enough. The German Army charged forward again with all its remaining potential once the winter has ended, and again a year later, when the next winter ended, but it was too late. The weakened German Army could not achieve then what it failed to achieve in 1941.

In December 1941, Germany lost the war when it failed in its all-or-nothing attempt to defeat Russia before winter, and in addition to that, at its moment of failure, the US joined the war, and its additional immense war potential further ensured Germany's defeat.

We can ask if Germany lost the war even earlier, for example when it failed to defeat Great Britain with airplanes and submarines, leaving it as an essential future base for massive US forces and a second front. Or when it just began its invasion of Russia. The answer to that is negative. As long as he wasn't at war with Russia, Hitler had options and possibilities, nothing was final yet. When he invaded Russia, he could still do things differently, such as concentrating the effort on Moscow from the beginning and consistently, and also presenting the war as a campaign of liberation of the population from Stalin's brutal regime, in order to soften Russia's resistance. But Hitler interfered with the military conduct of the invasion from the beginning, and the unprecedented Nazi brutality, which intended to decimate and enslave them, left the tough Russian people with no other choice but to fight their toughest war, and to utilize their endless resources better than ever. And by doing so, Hitler lost his last remaining options, and his chance of winning the war.

So in December of 1941, at the gates of Moscow, Hitler's war was lost. It still took 3 1/2 more years to end, thanks to the outstanding fighting skill and loyalty of the German soldiers, but he could no longer win it.

Related essays:
The Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Kursk
Russia in World War 2
The Battle of Britain
Adolf Hitler

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