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Hitler, Tweede Wereldoorlog



Tweede Wereldoorlog

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  • 6 februari 2004
The beginning of Hitler’s power.

Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, the fourth child of Alois Schickelgruber and Klara Hitler in the Austrian town of Braunau. Two of his siblings died from diphtheria when they were children, and one died shortly after birth. Alois was a customs official, illegitimate by birth, who was described by his housemaid as a "very strict but comfortable" man. Young Adolf was showered with love and affection by his mother. When Adolf was three years old, the family moved to Passau, along the Inn River on the German side of the border. A brother, Edmond, was born two years later. The family moved once more in 1895 to the farm community of Hafeld, 30 miles southwest of Linz. Another sister, Paula, was born in 1896, the sixth of the union, supplemented by a half brother and half sister from one of his father's two previous marriages. Following another family move, Adolf lived for six months across from a large Benedictine monastery. The monastery's coat of arms' most salient feature was a swastika. As a youngster, Adolf's dream was to enter the priesthood. While there is anecdotal evidence that Adolf's father regularly beat him during his childhood, it was not unusual for discipline to be enforced in that way during that period. By 1900, Hitler's talents as an artist surfaced. He did well enough in school to be eligible for either the university preparatory "gymnasium" or the technical/scientific Realschule. Because the latter had a course in drawing, Adolf accepted his father's decision to enrol him in the Realschule. He did not do well there. Adolf's father died in 1903 after suffering a pleural haemorrhage. Adolf himself suffered from lung infections, and he quit school at the age of 16, partially the result of ill health and partially the result of poor school work. In 1906, Adolf was permitted to visit Vienna, but he was unable to gain admission to a prestigious art school. His mother developed terminal breast cancer and was treated by Dr. Edward Bloch, a Jewish doctor who served the poor. After an operation and excruciatingly painful and expensive treatments with a dangerous drug, she died on December 21, 1907. Hitler spent six years in Vienna, living on a small legacy from his father and an orphan's pension. Virtually penniless by 1909, he wandered Vienna as a transient, sleeping in bars, flophouses, and shelters for the homeless, including, ironically, those financed by Jewish philanthropists. It was during this period that he developed his prejudices about Jews, his interest in politics, and debating skills. According to John Toland's biography, Adolf Hitler, two of his closest friends at this time were Jewish, and he admired Jewish art dealers and Jewish operatic performers and producers. However, Vienna was a centre of anti-Semitism, and the media's portrayal of Jews as scapegoats with stereotyped attributes did not escape Hitler's fascination. In May 1913, Hitler, seeking to avoid military service, left Vienna for Munich, the capital of Bavaria, following a windfall received from an aunt who was dying. In January, the police came to his door bearing a draft notice from the Austrian government. The document threatened a year in prison and a fine if he was found guilty of leaving his native land with the intent of evading conscription. Hitler was arrested on the spot and taken to the Austrian Consulate. Upon reporting to Salzburg for duty, he was found "unfit...too weak...and unable to bear arms." When World War I was touched off by the assassination by a Serb of the heir to the Austrian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Hitler's passions against foreigners, particularly Slavs, were inflamed. He was caught up in the patriotism of the time, and submitted a petition to enlist in the Bavarian army. After less than two months of training, Hitler's regiment saw its first combat near Ypres, against the British and Belgians. Hitler narrowly escaped death in battle several times, and was eventually awarded two Iron Crosses for bravery. He rose to the rank of lance corporal but no further. In October 1916, he was wounded by an enemy shell and evacuated to a Berlin area hospital. After recovering, and serving a total of four years in the trenches, he was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack in Belgium in October 1918. Communist-inspired insurrections shook Germany while Hitler was recovering from his injuries. Some Jews were leaders of these abortive revolutions, and this inspired hatred of Jews as well as Communists. On November 9th, the Kaiser abdicated and the Socialists gained control of the government. Anarchy was more the rule in the cities. The Free Corps was a paramilitary organisation composed of vigilante war veterans who banded together to fight the growing Communist insurgency which was taking over Germany. The Free Corps crushed this insurgency. Its members formed the nucleus of the Nazi "brown-shirts" (S.A.) which served as the Nazi party's army. With the loss of the war, the German monarchy came to an end and a republic was proclaimed. A constitution was written providing for a President with broad political and military power and a parliamentary democracy. A national election was held to elect 423 deputies to the National Assembly. The centrist parties swept to victory. The result was what is known as the Weimar Republic. On June 28, 1919, the German government ratified the Treaty of Versailles. Under the terms of the treaty which ended hostilities in the War, Germany had to pay reparations for all civilian damages caused by the war.
Germany also lost her colonies and large portions of German territory. A 30-mile strip on the right bank of the Rhine was demilitarised. Limits were placed on German armaments and military strength. The terms of the treaty were humiliating to most Germans, and condemnation of its terms undermined the government and served as a rallying cry for those who like Hitler believed Germany was ultimately destined for greatness. Soon after the war, Hitler was recruited to join a military intelligence unit, and was assigned to keep tabs on the German Worker's Party. At the time, it was comprised of only a handful of members. It was disorganised and had no program, but its members expressed a right-wing doctrine consonant with Hitler's. He saw this party as a vehicle to reach his political ends. His blossoming hatred of the Jews became part of the organisation’s political platform. Hitler built up the party, converting it from a de facto discussion group to an actual political party. Advertising for the party's meetings appeared in anti-Semitic newspapers. The turning point of Hitler's mesmerising oratorical career occurred at one such meeting held on October 16, 1919. Hitler's emotional delivery of an impromptu speech captivated his audience. Through word of mouth, donations poured into the party's coffers, and subsequent mass meetings attracted hundreds of Germans eager to hear the young, forceful and hypnotic leader. With the assistance of party staff, Hitler drafted a party program consisting of twenty-five points. This platform was presented at a public meeting on February 24, 1920, with over 2,000 eager participants. After hecklers were forcibly removed by Hitler supporters armed with rubber truncheons and whips, Hitler electrified the audience with his masterful demagoguery. Jews were the principal target of his diatribe. Among the 25 points were revoking the Versailles Treaty, confiscating war profits, expropriating land without compensation for use by the state, revoking civil rights for Jews, and expelling those Jews who had emigrated into Germany after the war began. The following day, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were published in the local anti-Semitic newspaper. The false, but alarming accusations reinforced Hitler's anti-Semitism. Soon after, treatment of the Jews was a major theme of Hitler's orations, and the increasing scapegoating of the Jews for inflation, political instability, unemployment, and the humiliation in the war, found a willing audience. Jews were tied to "internationalism" by Hitler. The name of the party was changed to the National Socialist German Worker's party, and the red flag with the swastika was adopted as the party symbol. A local newspaper which appealed to anti-Semites was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Hitler raised funds to purchase it for the party. In January 1923, French and Belgian troops marched into Germany to settle a reparations dispute. Germans resented this occupation, which also had an adverse effect on the economy.
Hitler's party benefited by the reaction to this development, and exploited it by holding mass protest rallies despite a ban on such rallies by the local police. The Nazi party began drawing thousands of new members, many of whom were victims of hyper-inflation and found comfort in blaming the Jews for this trouble. The price of an egg, for example, had inflated to 30 million times its original price in just 10 years. Economic upheaval generally breeds political upheaval, and Germany in the 1920s was no exception. The Bavarian government defied the Weimar Republic, accusing it of being too far left. Hitler endorsed the fall of the Weimar Republic, and declared at a public rally on October 30, 1923 that he was prepared to march on Berlin to rid the government of the Communists and the Jews. On November 8, 1923, Hitler held a rally at a Munich beer hall and proclaimed a revolution. The following day, he led 2,000 armed "brown-shirts" in an attempt to take over the Bavarian government. This putsch was resisted and put down by the police, after more than a dozen were killed in the fighting. Hitler suffered a broken and dislocated arm in the melee, was arrested, and was imprisoned at Landsberg. He received a five-year sentence.
Hitler served only nine months of his five-year term. While in prison, he wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf. It was partly an autobiographical book (although filled with glorified inaccuracies, self-serving half-truths and outright revisionism) which also detailed his views on the future of the German people. There were several targets of the vicious diatribes in the book, such as democrats, Communists, and internationalists. But he reserved the brunt of his vituperation for the Jews, whom he portrayed as responsible for all of the problems and evils of the world, particularly democracy, Communism, and internationalism, as well as Germany's defeat in the War. Jews were the German nation's true enemy, he wrote. They had no culture of their own, he asserted, but perverted existing cultures such as Germany's with their parasitism. As such, they were not a race, but an anti-race. "[The Jews'] ultimate goal is the denaturalisation, the promiscuous bastardisation of other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the highest peoples as well as the domination of his racial mishmash through the extirpation of the folks intelligentsia and its replacement by the members of his own people," he wrote. On the contrary, the German people were of the highest racial purity and those destined to be the master race according to Hitler.
To maintain that purity, it was necessary to avoid intermarriage with subhuman races such as Jews and Slavs. Germany could stop the Jews from conquering the world only by eliminating them. By doing so, Germany could also find Lebensraum, living space, without which the superior German culture would decay. This living space, Hitler continued, would come from conquering Russia (which was under the control of Jewish Marxists, he believed) and the Slavic countries. This empire would be launched after democracy was eliminated and a "FÅhrer" called upon to rebuild the German Reich. A second volume of Mein Kampf was published in 1927. It included a history of the Nazi party to that time and its program, as well as a primer on how to obtain and retain political power, how to use propaganda and terrorism, and how to build a political organisation. While Mein Kampf was crudely written and filled with embarrassing tangents and ramblings, it struck a responsive chord among its target those Germans who believed it was their destiny to dominate the world. The book sold over five million copies by the start of World War II. Once released from prison, Hitler decided to seize power constitutionally rather than by force of arms. Using demagogic oratory, Hitler spoke to scores of mass audiences, calling for the German people to resist the yoke of Jews and Communists, and to create a new empire which would rule the world for 1,000 years. Hitler's Nazi party captured 18% of the popular vote in the 1930 elections. In 1932, Hitler ran for President and won 30% of the vote, forcing the eventual victor, Paul von Hindenburg, into a runoff election. A political deal was made to make Hitler chancellor in exchange for his political support. He was appointed to that office in January 1933. Upon the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler was the consensus successor. With an improving economy, Hitler claimed credit and consolidated his position as a dictator, having succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions. The German industrial machine was built up in preparation for war. By 1937, he was comfortable enough to put his master plan, as outlined in Mein Kampf, into effect. Calling his top military aides together at the "FÅhrer Conference" in November 1937, he outlined his plans for world domination. Those who objected to the plan were dismissed.

So it begins.

Attacks against airfields, communications, military installations, using fast mobile armor and infantry to follow up on the first wave of bomber and fighter aircraft. Poland was overrun inless than one month, Denmark and Norway in two months, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France in six weeks. After the fall of France in June 1940 only Great Britain stood firm. The Battle of Britain, in which the Royal Air Force prevented the Luftwaffe from securing aerial control over the English Channel, was Hitler's first setback, causing the planned invasion of the British Isles to be postponed. Hitler turned to the Balkans and North Africa where his Italian allies had suffered defeats, his armies rapidly overrunning Greece, Yugoslavia, the island of Crete and driving the British from Cyrenaica. The crucial decision of his career, the invasion of Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941, was rationalised by the idea that its destruction would prevent Great Britain from continuing the war with any prospect of success. He was convinced that once he kicked the door in, as he told Jodl (q.v.), "the whole rotten edifice [of communist rule] will come tumbling down" and the campaign would be over in six weeks. The war against Russia was to be an anti-Bolshivek crusade, a war of annihilation in which the fate of European Jewry would finally be sealed. At the end of January 1939 Hitler had prophesied that "if the international financial Jewry within and outside Europe should succeed once more in dragging the nations into a war, the result will be, not the Bolshevisation of the world and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."
As the war widened — the United States by the end of 1941 had entered the struggle against the Axis powers — Hitler identified the totality of Germany's enemies with "international Jewry," who supposedly stood behind the British-American-Soviet alliance. The policy of forced emigration had manifestly failed to remove the Jews from Germany's expanded lebensraum, increasing their numbers under German rule as the Wehrmacht moved East. The widening of the conflict into a world war by the end of 1941, the refusal of the British to accept Germany's right to continental European hegemony (which Hitler attributed to "Jewish" influence) and to agree to his "peace" terms, the racial-ideological nature of the assault on Soviet Russia, finally drove Hitler to implement the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" which had been under consideration since 1939. The measures already taken in those regions of Poland annexed to the Reich against Jews (and Poles) indicated the genocide implications of Nazi-style "Germination" policies. The invasion of Soviet Russia was to set the seal on Hitler's notion of territorial conquest in the East, which was inextricably linked with annihilating the 'biological roots of Bolshevism' and hence with the liquidation of all Jews under German rule. At first the German armies carried all before them, overrunning vast territories, overwhelming the Red Army, encircling Leningrad and reaching within striking distance of Moscow. Within a few months of the invasion Hitler's armies had extended the Third Reich from the Atlantic to the Caucasus, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But the Soviet Union did not collapse as expected and Hitler, instead of concentrating his attack on Moscow, ordered a pincer movement around Kiev to seize the Ukraine, increasingly procrastinating and changing his mind about objectives. Underestimating the depth of military reserves on which the Russians could call, the calibre of their generals and the resilient, fighting spirit of the Russian people (whom he dismissed as inferior peasants), Hitler prematurely proclaimed in October 1941 that the Soviet Union had been "struck down and would never rise again." In reality he had overlooked the pitiless Russian winter to which his own troops were now condemned and which forced the Wehrmacht to abandon the highly mobile warfare which had previously brought such spectacular successes. The disaster before Moscow in December 1941 led him to dismiss his Commander-in-Chief von Brauchitsch, and many other key commanders who sought permission for tactical withdrawals, including Guderian, Bock, Hoepner, von Rundstedt and Leeb, found themselves cashiered. Hitler now assumed personal control of all military operations, refusing to listen to advice, disregarding unpalatable facts and rejecting everything that did not fit into his preconceived picture of reality. His neglect of the Mediterranean theatre and the Middle East, the failure of the Italians, the entry of the United States into the war, and above all the stubborn determination of the Russians, pushed Hitler on to the defensive. From the winter of 1941 the writing was on the wall but Hitler refused to countenance military defeat, believing that implacable will and the rigid refusal to abandon positions could make up for inferior resources and the lack of a sound overall strategy.
Convinced that his own General Staff was weak and indecisive, if not openly treacherous, Hitler became more prone to outbursts of blind, hysterical fury towards his generals, when he did not retreat into bouts of misanthropic brooding. His health, too, deteriorated under the impact of the drugs prescribed by his quack physician, Dr. Theodor Morell. Hitler's personal decline, symbolised by his increasingly rare public appearances and his self-enforced isolation in the "Wolf's Lair," his headquarters buried deep in the East Prussian forests, coincided with the visible signs of the coming German defeat which became apparent in mid-1942. Rommel's defeat at El Alamein and the subsequent loss of North Africa to the Anglo-American forces were overshadowed by the disaster at Stalingrad where General von Paulus's Sixth Army was cut off and surrendered to the Russians in January 1943. This leaded to the end of German attacks within Asia .


In December 1943 President Roosevelt appointed General Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, with orders to "Enter the Continent of Europe, and in conjunction with other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces" The original codename for this invasion was "Operation Roundup"
This was eventually changed to "Operation Overlord"
The enormity of this task cannot be over stated, by the early months of 1944 Britain was a virtual army camp with 3.5 million troops, soldiers, sailors and airmen all training for the mammoth task that lay ahead. British, American, Canadian, Australians and New Zealanders, French, Belgians, Norwegians, Poles and Czechs along with the Dutch, all with the same objective. The Liberation of Europe from the Evil clutches of Hitler's occupation.
American troops, weapons and vehicles were shipped across the Atlantic to Britain for almost two years, this operation was code named "Bolero". Imagine an airforce consisting of 13,000 aircraft and 3,500 gliders! this was assembled for the great assault.

1,200 fighting ships, 1,600 merchant ships and 4,000 assault craft of various descriptions were at anchor in ports all over the southern coasts of England, including Cardiff in South Wales.
To keep the build up of all these men and their equipment a secret from the German spy network was an achievement in itself, but a secret it remained, many south coast towns were closed to the public, to prevent spying eyes.
Since 1942 British Intelligence had been gathering as much information as possible, looking for a suitable landing ground for the Liberating forces, one of the main priorities being, that the landing beaches had to be in range of fighter air cover from southern England.
The shortest and most accessible point was the Pas de Calais, this would give the allies a very short supply line indeed. The Germans under the command of Field Marshall Von Rundstedt also came to this conclusion, and therefore concentrated on reinforcing the Atlantic wall defences in this area.
In July 1943 the Allies captured Sicily and Mussolini's regime collapsed in Italy. In September the Italians signed an armistice and the Allies landed at Salerno, reaching Naples on 1 October and taking Rome on June 4, 1944. The Allied invasion of Normandy followed on June 6, 1944 and soon a million Allied troops were driving the German armies eastwards, while from the opposite direction the Soviet forces advanced relentlessly on the Reich. The total mobilisation of the German war economy under Albert Speer and the energetic propaganda efforts of Joseph Goebbels to rouse the fighting spirit of the German people were impotent to change the fact that the Third Reich lacked the resources equal to a struggle against the world alliance which Hitler himself had provoked. Allied bombing began to have a telling effect on German industrial production and to undermine the morale of the population. The generals, frustrated by Hitler's total refusal to trust them in the field and recognising the inevitability of defeat, planned, together with the small anti-Nazi Resistance inside the Reich, to assassinate the Fuhrer on 20 July 1944, hoping to pave the way for a negotiated peace with the Allies that would save Germany from destruction. The plot failed and Hitler took implacable vengeance on the conspirators, watching with satisfaction a film of the grisly executions carried out on his orders. As disaster came closer, Hitler buried himself in the unreal world of the Fuhrer bunker in Berlin, clutching at fantastic hopes that his "secret weapons," the V-1 and V-2 rockets, would yet turn the tide of war. He gestured wildly over maps, planned and directed attacks with non-existent armies and indulged in endless, night-long monologues which reflected his growing senility, misanthropy and contempt for the "cowardly failure" of the German people.

Why Hitler’s regime felt.

In his prison cell at Nuremberg, Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, wrote a brief memoir in the course of which he explored the reasons for Germany's defeat. He picked out three factors that he thought were critical: the unexpected 'power of resistance' of the Red Army; the vast supply of American armaments; and the success of Allied air power. This last was Hitler's explanation too. When Ribbentrop spoke with him a week before the suicide in the bunker, Hitler told him that, 'the real military cause of defeat' was the failure of the German Air Force. For all his many failings Ribbentrop was closer to the truth than he might have realised. For the Allies in World War Two, the defeat of Germany was their priority. Italy and Japan never posed the same kind of threat as the European superpower they fought alongside. Their defeat, costly though it was, became irresistible. The key to ending the world crisis was the defeat of Hitler's Germany. This outcome was not pre-ordained, as is so often suggested, once the British Empire was joined by the USSR and the USA in 1941. The Allies had to mobilise and utilise their large resources effectively on the battlefield and in the air. This outcome could not be taken for granted. British forces were close to defeat everywhere in 1942. The American economy was a peacetime economy, apparently unprepared for the colossal demands of total war. The Soviet system was all but shattered in 1941, two-thirds of its heavy industrial capacity captured and its vast air and tank armies destroyed. This was a war, Ribbentrop ruefully concluded, that 'Germany could have won'. Soviet resistance was in some ways the most surprising outcome. The German attackers believed that Soviet Communism was a corrupt and primitive system that would collapse, in ‘Goebbels' words 'like a pack of cards'. The evidence of how poorly the Red Army fought in 1941 confirmed these expectations. More than five million Soviet soldiers were captured or killed in six months; they fought with astonishing bravery, but at every level of combat were out-classed by troops that were better armed, better trained and better led. This situation seemed beyond remedy.
Yet within a year Soviet factories were out-producing their richly-endowed German counterparts - the Red Army had embarked on a thorough transformation of the technical and organisational base of Soviet forces, and a stiffening of morale, from Stalin downwards, produced the first serious reverse for the German armed forces when Operation Uranus in November 1942 led to the encirclement of Stalingrad and the loss of the German Sixth Army. The transformation in Soviet fighting power and morale has a number of explanations. In the first place the Red Army learned a great deal from German practice and from their own mistakes. The air and tank armies were reorganised to mimic the German Panzer divisions and air fleets; communication and intelligence were vastly improved (helped by a huge supply of American and British telephone equipment and cable); training for officers and men was designed to encourage greater initiative; and the technology available was hastily modernised to match German. Two other changes proved vital to allow the army to profit from the reform of operational practice. First, Soviet industry and workforce proved remarkable adaptable for a command economy long regarded as inherently inefficient and inflexible. The pre-war experience of economic planning and mobilisation helped the regime to run a war economy on an emergency basis, while the vast exodus of workers (an estimated 16 million) and factories (more than 2,500 major plants) from in front of the advancing Germans allowed the USSR to reconstruct its armaments economy in central and eastern Russia with great rapidity. The second factor lay with politics. Until the summer of 1942 Stalin and the Party closely controlled the Red Army. Political commissars worked directly alongside senior officers and reported straight back to the Kremlin. Stalin came to realise that political control was a dead hand on the army and cut it back sharply in the autumn of 1942. He created a deputy supreme commander under him, the talented Marshal Zhukov, and began to step back more from the day-to- day conduct of the war. Given the freedom to work out their own salvation, the Soviet General Staff demonstrated that they could match the Germans on the battlefield. Not until the later stages of the war did Stalin begin to reimpose control, when victory was at last in sight. The Soviet Union did not turn the tide on the Eastern Front on its own. Though for decades Soviet historians played down the role of American and British Lend-Lease aid, its real significance has now been acknowledged. From 1942 a flow of food and raw materials and engineering equipment sustained the Soviet war effort. There was enough food in the end to ensure a square meal for every Soviet soldier; most of the Soviet rail network was supplied with locomotives, wagons and rails made in the USA; one million miles of telephone wire, 14 million pairs of boots, 363, 000 trucks, all helped to keep the Red Army fighting with growing efficiency. Without Allied aid, Stalin later admitted, 'we would not have been able to cope'. The reliance on American aid indicates just how much the Allied war effort owed to the exceptional material and logistical strength of the United States. The ability of the world's largest industrial economy to convert to the mass production of weapons and war equipment is usually taken for granted. Yet the transition from peace to war was so rapid and effective that the USA was able to make up for the lag in building up effectively trained armed forces by exerting a massive material superiority. This success owed something to the experience of Roosevelt's New Deal, when for the first time the federal government began to operate its own economic planning agencies; it owed something to the decision by the American armed forces in the 1920s to focus on issues of production and logistics in the Industrial War College set up in Washington. But above all it owed a great deal to the character of American industrial capitalism, with its 'can-do' ethos, high levels of engineering skill and tough-minded entrepreneurs. After a decade of recession the manufacturing community had a good deal of spare, unemployed capacity to absorb (unlike Germany, where full employment was reached well before the outbreak of war, and gains in output could only really come from improvements in productivity). Even with these vast resources to hand, however, it took American forces considerable time before they could fight on equal terms with well-trained and determined enemies. This gap in fighting effectiveness helps to explain the decision taken in Washington to focus a good deal of the American effort on the building up of a massive air power. Roosevelt saw air strategy as a key to future war and a way to reduce American casualties. At his encouragement the Army Air Forces were able to build up an air force that came to dwarf those of Germany and Japan.

At the centre of the strategy was a commitment to strategic bombing, the long- range and independent assault on the economic and military infrastructure of the enemy state. Such a strategy was already underway in Britain, when the USA entered the war in December 1941. In January 1943 the two states finally decided to pool their very large bomber forces in a Combined Offensive against the German economy. It has always been fashionable to see the Combined Offensive as a failure. Yet its effect was to distort German strategy and economic capability decisively between 1943 and 1945. This was achieved in three distinct ways. First, bombing forced the German Air Force to divert most of its fighter force to the defence of Germany, and to reduce sharply the proportion of bomber aircraft produced. The effect was to denude the German frontline of much needed bomber and fighter aircraft; by 1944 German air power was easily eroded around the periphery of German-controlled Europe, where pilot losses reached exceptionally high levels. Second, bombing placed a ceiling on the ability of the German- dominated European economy to produce armaments in quantities that matched the vast resource base of the occupied economies. This was achieved through direct destruction, the interruption of raw material, transport and energy supplies on a large scale, and the forced dispersal of German industry away from the most threatened centres. Third, bombing forced Hitler and the German leadership to think of radical ways to combat the threat it posed. Huge resources were diverted to the production of vengeance, or 'V', weapons, which had a very limited impact on Britain when rockets and flying bombs began to fall in the late summer of 1944. A gigantic construction project for an underground economy was authorised by Hitler in 1943. Organised by Himmler, using camp labour under the most rigorous and deadly regime, millions of man-hours and billions of marks were spent trying to achieve the impossible. Bombing provided the key difference between the western Allies and Germany.
It played an important part in sustaining domestic morale in Britain and the USA, while its effects on German society produced social disruption on a vast scale (by late 1944 8 million Germans had fled from the cities to the safer villages and townships). The use of bombers and fighter-bombers at the frontline helped to ease the path of inexperienced armies that threatened to get bogged down in Normandy and Italy. The long-range fighter, introduced from late 1943, made bombing more secure, and provided the instrument to destroy the German fighter force over the Reich. The debilitating effects on German air power then reduced the contribution German aircraft could make on the Eastern Front, where Soviet air forces vastly outnumbered German. The success of air power in Europe persuaded the American military leaders to try to end the war with Japan the same way. City raids from May 1945 destroyed a vast area of urban Japan and paved the way for a surrender, completed with the dropping of the two atomic bombs in August 1945. Here, too, the American government and public was keen to avoid further heavy casualties. Air power provided a short-cut to victory in both theatres; British and American wartime losses were a fraction of those sustained by Germany, Japan and the USSR, and this in turn made it easier to persuade democratic populations to continue fighting even through periods of crisis and stalemate. There are many other factors that explain victory and defeat beside von Ribbentrop's trio. Yet without Soviet resistance and reform, American rearmament and economic mobilisation, and western air power, the ability of the three major allies to wear down German and Japanese resistance would have been highly questionable. This still leaves open the question of German miscalculation. There were weaknesses and strengths in Hitler's strategy, but no misjudgements were more costly in the end than the German belief that the Red Army was a primitive force, incapable of prolonged resistance, or Hitler's insistence that the USA would take years to rearm and could never field an effective army, or the failure to recognise that bombing was a threat worth taking seriously before it was too late. Military arrogance and political hubris put Germany on the path to a war she could have won only if these expectations had proved true. After the war a number of 6 million Jews died in so called ‘gas camps’.

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