BY LOGAN BLEDSOE
We almost lost WWII. Adolf Hitler was just days away from capturing Stalingrad, which would have led to the fall of Russia. At the time of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States was VERY VERY unprepared for WWII. At the time, we were practicing isolationism. We shut ourselves off from the inferno over in Europe. We had a small, under equipped military. Instead of practicing with real rocket launchers and grenades, soldiers practiced with milk cans, which they would throw at “tanks” and pretend they were grenades.
Americans were skeptical about jumping into European affairs. Their common view was, that since the United States was practically on the other side of the globe, they were safe from the turmoil in Europe. To some extent, this was true. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine would have to invade, defeat, and launch a full scale invasion across the Atlanatic ocean in order to attack the U.S. During all this, we would be receiving intel from Britain and their surrounding neighbors on how the war was going in order to prepare ourselves.
However, the British were being demolished on the Western front. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and technologically inferior to the German military. Not to mention, the German army was absolutely slaughtering the Russian army on the Eastern Front, killing millions of Russian soldiers and civilians in the process.
It soon became apparent that Britain would not win on the Western front without help. In March of 1941, Congress approved the Lend Lease Act. This gave over $31 billion dollars in military aide to Britain. It also included millions of tons worth of supplies, ammo, food, and weapons. It even included a number of old WWI-era destroyers to help defend the ships traveling across the Atlantic from German U-boats.
In May of 1941, the evacuation of Dunkirk began. The entire British army, numbering over 400,000 had its back against the sea, the German war machine closing in. They were set to annihilate the entire Britsh army. It is important to note that the 56,000 troops of the remnants of the French army were also stranded. A desperate evacuation of troops began on the beach head. It was estimated that Britain would only be able to save 40,000 of its 400,000 stranded troops on the beach head. The other 360,000… would be killed or captured. After two months of desperate boat trips, including military, and civilian fishing boats, almost all 400,000 British troops were evacuated back to England to prepare for the impending invasion. Approximately 30,000 French troops, and 40,000 British troops were left behind while trying to buy their comrades time to escape.
The airwar for Britain began. The Luftwaffe, the German air force, began regular bombing raids on London and other parts of England. The RAF, the Royal Air Force, was spread thin, massively outnumbered by the swarms of German fighters. Winston Churchill begged Franklin D. Roosevelt to enter the war, and save Britain from its impending doom. Franklin, who was cautious about U.S. public opinion, instead tried to give more and more supplies, via the Lend Lease Act. It wasn’t enough. Britain needed an Ally.
As Germany prepared for a full scale invasion, Britain prepared
While all this is going on, the U.S. has put an oil embargo, and strict sanctions on Imperial Japan, condemning them for invading China and its neighboring countries. The diplomatic “talks” were all but diplomatic, usually consisting up ambassadors and negotiators sitting in a room and not speaking. Japan knew the U.S. would not drop the embargo, it was running out of oil for its military. The Imperial Japanese high command believed they could effectively knock out the U.S. from the Pacific theatre with one decisive strike. This would give them enough time to seek out new oil reserves and conquer new territories, as well as give them time to prepare for more strikes against the U.S.
Against his better judgment, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto planned and prepared his navy for a surprise attack on the U.S. installation in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. Adolf Hitler had specifically warned the Japanese to not engage the U.S., fearing that the participation of the U.S. in the war would turn the tide. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked and decimated Pearl Harbor. The Japanese sunk 7 ships in total, as well as crippling the fighter planes that were on the tarmac. The attack claimed the lives of 2,335 military personnel, as well as 68 civilians. Adolf Hitler himself would not find out about the attack until the next day, December 8, when the U.S. declared war on Japan. Hitler was enraged, his reich was now seriously threatened. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto famously said, after the last fighter plane returned to his aircraft carrier, “We have awoken a sleeping giant.” Yamamoto was a brilliant Admiral, and he knew that Japan would eventually lose to the U.S.
On the opposite side of the world, the Soviets were all but defeated. They were desperately holding on to Stalingrad. At the beginning of the battle, over 270,000 German soldiers were sent to assault the city, they were up against 187,000 starved, demoralized Russians. By the end of the Battle, over 1,040,000 Axis soldiers would be thrown at Stalingrad, against 1,143,000 Russian soldiers. In the early part of the battle, the German high command was hard pressed to capture the Soviet city, before the infamous Russian winter. Hitler, irritated that the offensive was going too slowly, wanted to see victories in the near future. He split nearly half his forces at Stalingrad and sent them to capture Moscow. This would result in another bloody-stalemate. As the two battles raged on, claiming millions of lives on both sides, Hitler’s generals pleaded with him to withdraw for the winter and return when the fighting conditions were more suitable for the German army. Hitler, was rumored to have said, “What? The best army in the world can’t handle a little cold?”. Those words would be cost over 1,000,000 Axis soldiers their lives. Many would freeze to death, the other would be mutilated by the cold; eyelids falling off was a common injury.
Many military historians believe that Hitler is the single thing that lost the war on the Eastern front for the Nazi’s. His impatience with his generals, who were the greatest military minds in the world at the time, and his arrogance about the physical capabilities of his army is what leads to his downfall. Hitler had a number of these blunders. He sent forces to North Africa, which was a massive waste of resources and resulted in the capture of over 130,000 German personnel, as well as countless resources that could have otherwise gone to the Eastern front.
Possibly the blunder that lost Hitler the war, was the decision to not invade Britain right away. After the evacuation at Dunkirk, the RAF sent bombers to attack Hitler’s HQ. Hitler was in the middle of an important meeting with his generals. So when the bomb sirens went off and Hitler and his generals were forced to take cover in the underground bunker, Hitler had a fiery fit of rage. He quite literally flipped a table over, tore down maps, smashed, and threw things. He then ordered his generals to conduct massive bombing raids on Britain, under the pretext “I want them to know what it feels like to be bombed.” His top brass warned him that this would give Britain time to prepare for the invasion, and would deplete the Luftwaffe’s airpower, but Hitler, who tended to think more with emotions than logic, didn’t care. Had the Germans invaded Britain right away, they would have almost certainly taken the mainland, thus leaving the U.S. nowhere to stage their D-Day invasion later on in the war. With Britain knocked out of the war, the U.S. most certainly would have not been able to defeat Hitler. Had the Nazi’s taken Stalingrad, they would have eventually bested Russia. Had Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. may have entered the war much later, when it was already too late. In short, we got lucky, very lucky that Hitler’s ego prevented him from listening to his generals. Had he listened, we may all be speaking German right now.