In response to:
What the War Was Really About from the December 5, 2013 issue
To the Editors:
Professor Richard J. Evans dismisses Paul Kennedy’s suggestion that the Germans might have won the war as “beside the point,” writing that “defeat was preprogrammed for the Axis by the very nature of its war aims” [“What the War Was Really About,” NYR, December 5, 2013].
Regarding Japan few would doubt that her resources were unequal to destroying US might, nor that its “brutal and sadistic behavior” in pursuit of a Co-prosperity Sphere served to doom its prospects.
But Germany is another story. Evidence suggests that it wasn’t horrific Nazi war aims, but radical interference by Hitler himself that brought German ruin. Early victories in Operation Barbarossa unveiled remarkable and still not adequately explored possibilities. Bevin Alexander (How Hitler Could Have Won WWII: The Fatal Errors That Led to Nazi Defeat, 2000) writes of Army Group Center’s “astonishing success” advancing 440 miles in only six weeks. With few Soviet troops in their way, Guderian’s and Hoth’s tanks were only 220 miles from Moscow when Hitler issued orders that amounted to self-sabotage. He ordered a halt to the drive on Moscow, forcing instead Center’s panzer groups south to the Ukraine and north to Leningrad. Guderian was so outraged by Hitler’s deflection orders that he struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to force Hitler to allow him to proceed to Moscow before the end of the summer.
Surely the possibility of an early Nazi victory over Stalin and the prospect of Hitlerian world domination is a topic worthy of continued research.
New York City
Richard J. Evans replies:
Mr. Bleier’s points are all dealt with in my review, which I urge him to reread. Far from there being few Red Army troops in its way, the German army met with stiff resistance at every stage. The Army Supreme Command ordered a halt to the advance on July 30, 1941, because the troops were exhausted, losses totaled more than 200,000, and supplies were running low. It was only on August 21 that Hitler ordered the diversion of some forces to the Ukraine. Already on August 2, Army Chief General Franz Halder confessed: “We have underestimated the Russian colossus.” Every time a Russian division was destroyed, he confided to his diary, “The Russians put up another dozen.” He was already thinking of how to get winter clothing for the troops at this point. The capture of Moscow would have made as little difference to the situation as it did to Napoleon’s Grand Army in 1812. In any case, Mr. Bleier seems not to have grasped my main argument, which is that since Nazi war aims were without limit, involving perpetual warfare, first in Europe and then, in the event of success, against the US, defeat at some point was inevitable.