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 ? (and long continued fighting that still cost so many lives).

When was it? How early or late was it ?

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

In the summer of 1944, with unstoppable massive forces of the western allies pushing from West and unstoppable massive Soviet forces pushing from East, with devastating massive air bombardment, both tactical and strategic, that the already 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 it'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 of 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 massive continued advance all over Eastern Europe, en route to Berlin.

If we look back in time, we can safely say that with the loss of its last major attempt, in Kursk in mid 1943, Germany was no longer able to defeat Russia.

But actually, if we look deeper into the details of the situation, we can say that although Kursk was the last major German attempt, and German army broke its back trying, it already had no hope even earlier. If we look in the details of the Kursk campaign and in those of the battle of Stalingrad, then we can go back to the Stalingrad campaign in late 1942 and say that when the Soviets started their huge counter attack that encircled the massive German forces in and around Stalingrad, Germany lost the strategic initiative and its ability to stop Russia.

But even 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 change the final outcome ? No, it could only delay it, as the outcome of the war was decided even earlier.

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 Winston Churchill himself at the time of events when they happened. Remaining wartime reports by German Generals allow us to 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 failing to defeat it could only mean that Germany will 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 land, 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, in 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 everything 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. In October 2nd 1941 the German military began its final assault on Moscow. In the 2nd week of October, there was a confident German public radio 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, when the mud was frozen by the dropping temperature. In German cities an emergency effort began, to collect winter clothing for their unequipped 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 also wrote a report that was summarized by the chief of staff with "we reached our limit in terms of personnel and equipment".

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

The next day, on December 7th 1941, the Soviet news agency announced the first German defeat since the invasion started. On the same day, Japan attacked the US in Pearl Harbor and the US joined the war with its immense military potential. On that day Hitler ordered to cease the 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 failed. A totally new strategy was needed". Instead of that, in December 19, 1941, Hitler, the German dictator and a former WWI Corporal, appointed himself the new commander-in-chief of the German army, and personally commanded the daily war management since then. He no longer trusted his gifted Generals, the highly professional leaders of the world's most effective military machine, to win the war for him. He thought he can succeed where they failed, and ignored most of their advices since. He totally forbid any more retreats, a limiting constraint that cost the German military almost a third of its manpower in Russia before the end of the winter. General Halder 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 became ever stronger. Germany on the other hand had just pushed itself to the limit and beyond, and it was not enough. It charged forward again with all its remaining potential once the winter ended, and again a year later when the next winter ended, but it was too late. The weakened German military 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 the 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 presenting the war as a campaign of liberation 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 that aimed to decimate and enslave them, left the tough Russian people with no other choice but to fight their toughest war, and utilize their endless resources much 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 took 3 1/2 more years to end, thanks to the outstanding fighting skill and loyalty of the German soldier, but he could no longer win it.

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

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